Here's why tech execs can't quit Trump's technology council

trump American Technology Council

Carlos Barria/Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in an American Technology Council roundtable, accompanied by Tim Cook, CEO of Apple (L) and Satya Nadella CEO of Microsoft Corporation at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2017.

President Donald Trump has aggressively courted corporate leaders to serve on various White House councils about business issues.

But after controversial remarks from Trump about the deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which Trump equated white supremacists with those protesting against them, several business leaders have left Trump's manufacturing council, including the CEOs of 3M, Merck, Under Armour, and Intel. 

Members of another Trump council, the Strategic and Policy Forum, reportedly held a conference call on Wednesday and disbanded the group. 

After that, Trump tweeted on Wednesday that he was disbanding both groups.  

This has many in the tech world wondering: Why haven't technology CEOs dropped out of Trump's American Technology Council? Will that group disband, too? 

It probably won't disband.

Turns out, there are no technology executives on Trump's American Technology Council, which had its first meeting in June and is tasked with the mission to "transform and modernize" American technology. 

"Our goal is to lead a sweeping transformation of the federal government's technology that will deliver dramatically better services for citizens," Trump said in June when seated next to the CEOs of Apple and Microsoft. 

Ivanka Trump American Technology Council

Carlos Barria/Reuters

Ivanka Trump talks to Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt at an American Technology Council roundtable at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2017.

But according to the executive order that formed the group, all 19 members on the council are government officials. 

The American Tech Council is chaired by Trump, and includes a variety of cabinet members and staffers, including the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Commerce, the Director of National Intelligence, and the U.S. Chief Technology Officer. 

One reason why there may be confusion about then ATC's membership is because at the council's first meeting, it invited some of the most powerful people in technology to attend, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was invited but he didn't attend. 

Cook has publicly said he is not on the council, but he wants to continue engaging with the White House. 

"At the end of the day, I'm not a person who's going to walk away and say, 'If you don't do what I want, I leave.' I'm not on a council, so I don't have those kind of decisions. But I care deeply about America. I want America to do well," he told Bloomberg in June. 

Just because these tech executives aren't on an official council doesn't mean they can't push back against Trump. But since there's a longstanding historical instinct and high-level thinking at big tech companies to not to get publicly involved with politics, they have largely opted for smaller, private gestures in reaction to Charlottesville. 

Cook, for example, sent a strongly worded tweet from his personal account on Monday. Nadella wrote an internal email to his employees about the events that was leaked to Quartz. But many other executives who attended the roundtable have remained publicly silent. 

trump American Technology Council

Carlos Barria/Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump (C) participates in an American Technology Council roundtable at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2017.

Here are the big names in tech who attended the meeting in June:

  • Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
  • Zachary Bookman, CEO of OpenGov 
  • Safra Catz, Co-Chief Executive of Oracle 
  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple 
  • John Doerr, Chairman of Kleiner Perkins 
  • Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware 
  • Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir 
  • Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel
  • Tom Leighton, CEO of Akamai
  • Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP 
  • Steven Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm 
  • Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft 
  • Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe
  • Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM 
  • Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet 
  • Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture
  • Peter Thiel, Founders Fund

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