Trump faces growing backlash

Left: A close-up view of the damage. Right: A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee (middle statue) at Duke University in North Carolina was vandalised on Thursday.
Left: A close-up view of the damage. Right: A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee (middle statue) at Duke University in North Carolina was vandalised on Thursday.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

3rd advisory council disbanded as corporate chiefs, Republicans come out against him

BRIDGEWATER (New Jersey) • A White House advisory council on infrastructure has become the latest casualty of the pique of business leaders over US President Donald Trump's response to the hate-fuelled violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

On Thursday, the White House announced that the President's Council on Infrastructure, which it said "was still being formed", would not move forward, meeting the same fate as the Manufacturing Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum.

Mr Trump said via Twitter on Wednesday that he was shutting down two other economic advisory councils to "avoid putting pressure on the business people" to remain on board, but momentum was already moving in that direction.

The latest move came after Mr Trump's tweets that he was mourning the loss of "beautiful statues and monuments", drawing stinging rebukes from fellow Republicans in a controversy that has inflamed racial tensions.

Mr Trump has alienated Republicans, corporate leaders and US allies, rattled markets and prompted speculation about possible White House resignations with his comments since last Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, which came in the aftermath of a white nationalist protest against the removal of a Confederate statue.

Opponents call the statues a festering symbol of racism, while supporters say they honour American history. Some of the monuments have become rallying points for white nationalists but also have the support of some people interested in historical preservation.

On Thursday, a key supporter during Mr Trump's campaign, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, spoke out against him. "We are at a point where there needs to be radical changes taking place at the White House itself. It has to happen," the senator told reporters in his home state of Tennessee.

"The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the ability or the competence that he needs to be successful."

Mr Trump had once considered Mr Corker for the job of secretary of state.

The senator's remarks constitute one of the strongest Republican backlash against Mr Trump's suggestions that both sides bear blame in the Charlottesville incident last week. Several other Republicans have called on Mr Trump to make a clearer denunciation of white supremacist groups, but many Republican leaders have remained silent on the President's remarks.

The rebuke from a key supporter was followed by a call from former vice-president Al Gore for Mr Trump to step down.

Mr James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox and son of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, pledged to make a US$1 million (S$1.36 million) donation to the Anti-Defamation League.

In another indication of businesses not wanting to be associated with the President, the world- renowned Cleveland Clinic cancelled a planned 2018 Florida fund-raiser at Mr Trump's Mar-a- Lago Florida resort, where it had held such events for seven straight years. The clinic's chief executive, Mr Toby Cosgrove, was a member of one of the two councils that disbanded on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Mr Trump unleashed attacks on two Republican senators, Mr Jeff Flake and Mr Lindsey Graham, in a series of Twitter posts, raising fresh doubts about his ability to work with lawmakers in his own party to win passage of his legislative agenda, which includes tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2017, with the headline 'Trump faces growing backlash'. Print Edition | Subscribe