Josh Lederman did excellent reporting, talking to 10 people inside or briefed on the Oval Office meeting that President Trump had with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, and the CEOs of Fedex, JetBlue, and Atlas Air — plus the CEO of Qatar Airways — that Delta CEO Ed Bastian declined to show up for, citing ‘other travel’ that he presumably felt was more important.
White House trade advisor Peter Navarro pushed for the meeting. He’s the chief architect of the administration’s protectionist policies. Meanwhile the lobby group representing American, Delta, and United was airing television commercials during “Fox & Friends” on Fox News, took out a full page ad flattering the President, and together wrote an op-ed in USA Today that rivals anything the President himself has ever said in terms of its mendacity.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker with Donald and Melania Trump in 2007, via Doha News
The Delta-American-United strategy was to get the President involved, hoping “his protectionist tendencies and desire to prop up U.S. job-creators would make him inclined to take the side of the big U.S. airlines.
Qatar, for its part, had just signed a deal a week earlier – in front of the President – for new Boeing jets and GE engines.
The meeting was set up as follows: airline CEOs seated around the Resolute Desk, with administration aides on nearby couches:
- John Bolton, National Security Advisor
- Peter Navarro, Assistant to the President for Trade and Manufacturing Policy
- Larry Kudlow, Director of the National Economic Council
- Mick Mulvaney, Acting Chief of Staff
- Senator Jim Risch, Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Stephanie Grisham, White House Press Secretary
Trump opened, “I’ve been seeing all these ads — what’s up with these ads?” And the meeting “quickly turned to confrontation.”
- Qatar Airways CEO Al Baker “called the American and United CEOs “liars.'”
- Trump “ribbed him back, telling al Baker he takes money from the Qatari government.”
- Fred Smith, CEO of Fedex, offered statistics on the importance of cargo to U.S. jobs and argued these would be at risk if the administration weighed in to help United, American, and Delta.
- Trump “kept bringing up the absence of Bastian, the Delta CEO.” The President kept returning to this. And in Bastian’s absence he ‘scolded’ Delta “for buying billions in planes from the European firm Airbus while Qatar Airways is buying its jets from Chicago-based Boeing Co.”
- Ultimately Trump told the U.S. airlines that they have to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation, something they’ve never done because they don’t have a substantive claim under U.S. law.
The meeting lasted an hour, during which “there was a lot of yelling.” I think my favorite part has to be that “the president ribbed American Airlines CEO Doug Parker over his company’s flagging stock price, asking why it’s so low at a time when the stock market is surging.”
Apparently the President basically tweeted this, but delivered in person:
(Not an Actual Tweet)
The meeting was largely seen as a win for Bolton (who wants Qatar’s help in the region countering Iran) — and Kudlow (who knows the economic case the U.S. airlines were making was absurd) over Navarro (whose heroes seem to be Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis C. Hawley).