Economy First Look

Amid #DeleteUber pressure, Travis Kalanick backs out of Trump advisory council

Uber drew customer ire for remaining active amid the NYC taxi strike in response to President Trump's travel ban, renewing critics' concerns about the chief executive's role on a council of business leaders advising the president.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks to students during an interaction at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Mumbai, India, on January 19, 2016. Mr. Kalanick on Thursday told employees that he had withdrawn from President Trump's economic advisory council.
Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
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Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick has withdrawn from President Trump’s council of business leaders amid pressure from activists opposed to Mr. Trump’s executive actions, including the suspension of the United States refugee program and a halt on immigration from a number of majority-Muslim countries.

Mr. Kalanick’s move highlights the dilemma many business leaders face between personal opposition to the Trump administration and their desire for a seat at the table.

"Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that," Kalanick told employees in an email announcing his decision not to participate in the council.

The Uber chief’s decision to quit the council, which includes the leaders of Wal-Mart, Tesla, the Cleveland Clinic, and Pepsi, came after his company spent a week embroiled in a #DeleteUber boycott campaign. The campaign arose after Uber opted to continue running its services to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport as usual while NY Taxi Workers Alliance joined the nationwide airport protests against Trump’s executive actions by refusing to drive there. The #DeleteUber campaign spread across social media this week, urging people to delete the app for the ride hailing service from their phones.

Kalanick's withdrawal from the roughly 15-member council, headed by the chairman and chief executive of private equity group Blackstone, came just one day before the group’s inaugural meeting at the White House on Friday. Disney chief executive Bob Iger has also decided not to attend Trump’s council, and will instead go to a company board meeting in California, an anonymous source close to Iger told the Associated Press.

Back in December, when the formation of Trump’s business council was announced, a Blackstone press release said it was "designed to provide direct input to the president from many of the best and brightest in the business world in a frank, non-bureaucratic, and nonpartisan manner."

However, for many activists against Trump’s ban, nothing but a complete boycott of the business forum was acceptable. Kalanick has criticized Trump’s executive actions and contributed to relief groups, but protesters kept up the pressure.

"This is not a 'seat at the table' moment. This is a flip-the-table moment," said Shannon Coulter, one of the organizers of the anti-Trump social media campaign "Grab Your Wallet."

Still, other members of the president’s business council have chosen to stay, including some whose companies are directly affected by Trump's actions.

Toby Cosgrove, the chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, has resolved to remain on the council, although clinic employees have been affected by the travel ban.

"He has an opportunity to talk directly to the president, and that is a good opportunity," spokeswoman Eileen Sheil told the AP.

General Motors Co. chief executive Mary Barra also stuck with the advisory group and plans to attend the Friday meeting at the White House, spokesman Patrick Morrissey said.

Tesla Inc. chief executive Elon Musk said in a statement that he'd attend, noting he and others on the council "will express our objections to the recent executive order on immigration and offer suggestions for changes to the policy."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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