Trump CEO Meeting: Business Gears Up For an Immigration Ban Fight

February 2, 2017, 6:52 PM UTC

Something quietly extraordinary is happening this week, even as world-rattling events roll in at blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed. Amid the tumult—those who went to sleep on the early side last night woke up today to find we’re now feuding with Australia (yes, Australia)—big business is rediscovering a political backbone it’s been missing for the better part of the last decade.

It took President Trump’s executive order on immigration to galvanize industry. But now corporate supplicants who lined up at Trump Tower post-election to make amends with the incoming president are transforming into the ad hoc leadership of a movement that looks like the best bet for containing the administration’s more intemperate instincts.

Tech executives were first into the breach, and they remain the driving force behind the new pushback. But others, from manufacturing to financial services, have piled in behind them. CEOs from companies across the country most actively opposed to the ban are adding their names to a letter (deadline: 5 p.m. EST tonight) addressed to Trump asking for major changes.

The idea, according to one tech industry source involved in the effort, is to get it to the White House before the inaugural meeting of Trump’s CEO kitchen cabinet convenes there on Friday. The group—officially the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum, headed by Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman—includes Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who’s emerged as one of the ban’s most vocal private-sector critics, after his initial silence spawned a #DeleteUber movement. Others on record in opposition who are expected to show up for the meeting tomorrow: BlackRock’s Larry Fink, IBM’s Ginni Rometty, JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, and Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX.

Meanwhile, general counsels for several major tech firms huddled Wednesday night to coordinate legal strategy, with the discussion centering on how to back up the ACLU’s challenge to the ban and filing amicus briefs in support of the Washington state attorney general’s suit that seeks to invalidate it, the tech insider says.

The industry would like to keep some political capital in reserve for a battle it’s anticipating with the administration over work visas for foreign-born talent. But leaders also see the ban as related. “To the extent it has a chilling impact on people wanting to come here and work for U.S. companies, there’s collateral damage,” the source says. In the immediate term, the ban has dramatically ratcheted up the stakes for a Friday meeting that otherwise would have turned on areas of agreement, like tax reform and infrastructure spending, that now seem a long way off.

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