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Trump likely to face questions over travel ban in meeting with CEOs

By David Shepardson

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump will likely face questions about his executive order restricting some travel to the United States when he meets with the CEOs of major U.S. companies at the White House on Friday.

Companies whose chief executives are expected to attend the meeting of the president's business advisory panel include JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N>, General Motors Co <GM.N>, Blackstone Group LP <BX.N>, IBM Corp <IBM.N>, Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Walt Disney Co <DIS.N>, two officials briefed on the meeting said on Wednesday.

Activists are already pressuring the CEOs to raise concerns about the travel restrictions at the meeting, which comes at the end of another turbulent week for the Trump administration.

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Trump's order last Friday, barring travel into the United States by people from seven Muslim-majority countries, touched off public protests and stirred unease among employees at many big U.S. companies.

CEOs have been faced with difficult choices to either criticize Trump's move at a time when they are trying to win White House support on tax and trade policies, or remain silent and take heat from consumers and employees dismayed by the order.

The Trump administration says the travel ban is aimed at strengthening national security. Backlash over the measure knocked the wind out of the post-inaugural stock market rally, although major indexes rebounded on Wednesday.

Trump's executive order put a 120-day halt on the U.S. refugee program, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and imposed a 90-day suspension on people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Along with protests it has prompted legal challenges in the United States and drawn criticism from several leading U.S. companies.

Among those critics, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick wrote in an email to employees Saturday that "the ban will impact many innocent people — an issue that I will raise this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump’s first business advisory group meeting."

Trump will kick off the two-hour meeting with an address lasting 10-15 minutes and will be followed by Stephen Schwarzman, the billionaire founder of private equity group Blackstone <BX.N>, who chairs the panel and assembled it at Trump's request.

Four topics will be discussed -- regulatory relief, women in the work force, tax and trade, and infrastructure -- with two to three people talking briefly about each subject to help shape “how the administration should be thinking,” according to a person familiar with the matter.

Investors said the CEOs would be mindful of Trump's penchant for rebuking companies publicly.

"Given recent history, being called out publicly is something that the CEOs in that room and other CEOs will absolutely be mindful to avoid," said Jim Russell, vice president at Bahl & Gaynor Inc, which oversees $17 billion and owns shares in several of the companies attending Friday's meeting.

"I'm sure they will pick their fights carefully and articulate them carefully."

It was not clear if all 19 members of the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum would attend Friday's meeting. Other members include the CEOs of Tesla Inc <TSLA.O>, Wal-Mart Stores Inc <WMT.N> and Boeing Co <BA.N>.

Tesla founder Elon Musk said this week that the travel order should be modified and he would seek a consensus among members of the advisory council.

Ford Motor Co <F.N> Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. and CEO Mark Fields have also criticized the travel measure. GM has declined to take a position.

On Wednesday, a group of religious investors, human rights groups other activists urged members of the business advisory panel to speak out against the travel restrictions at the meeting with Trump.

In a joint letter to the corporate leaders, the group said Trump's order "undermines respect for human rights and the lives of workers and their families in the U.S. and beyond, and disrupts economic activity and company operations."

The letter was signed by dozens of people, including representatives of firms focused on socially-responsible investing like Calvert Research and Management and Domini Impact Investments. Others included representatives of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, the Institute for Human Rights and Business and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Companies that have been most critical of Trump's immigration orders include Netflix Inc <NFLX.O>, Apple Inc <AAPL.O>, and Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O>, none of which form part of the business advisory panel.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, D.C. Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and Ross Kerber in Boston.; Editing by Frances Kerry and Tom Brown)

 
 
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