Barack Obama

Some CEOs decline White House dinner for Mexican president amid coronavirus surge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House CEO dinner on Wednesday evening with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his delegation had some notable absences among corporate invitees - one because of a positive coronavirus test.

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday morning, after he experienced a fever and a cough, and was not attending the dinner, a spokeswoman for the trade group said.

The 52-guest dinner, in the White House's East Room, was the most prominent state-level social event hosted by the Trump administration since coronavirus lockdowns began in March. It came as several states reported record new COVID-19 cases, the United States crosses here 130,000 deaths, and New Jersey on Wednesday ordered face masks to be worn in public.

President Donald Trump has declined to wear a mask in public and his administration has shunned nationwide guidance on their use, leaving it up to states and local authorities despite increasing calls for mask use from within his own Republican Party.

Webcast White House events prior to the dinner disclosed little social distancing, with attendees seated close to one another and few wearing masks. The dinner was closed to the media.

The District of Columbia is currently requiring the wearing of masks in businesses and other public places and is prohibiting mass gatherings of more than 50 people.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable CEO group and other business groups called on the White House and the National Governors Association last week to issue clear, consistent guidance requiring the wearing of masks in public to slow the disease’s spread.

"Absent stronger measures to prevent transmission, communities across America risk another round of shutdowns, broad restrictions on non-essential activities, and irreparable economic harm," the groups wrote in a letter here.


Detroit automaker CEOs Jim Hackett of Ford Motor Co F.N, Mary Barra of General Motors Co GM.N and Mike Manley of Fiat Chrysler FCHA.MI did not attend the dinner, with representatives for the companies saying they were not available.

All three companies stand to benefit from the launch of a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal that replaces the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

Ford sent its North American operations chief, Kumar Galhotra, while GM sent its general counsel, Craig Glidden, according to a list of attendees provided by the White House. No Fiat Chrysler executive was listed.

Some company officials said that they only learned about the dinner invitations on Monday.

Many companies are in non-disclosure periods ahead of reporting second-quarter earnings, while Detroit automakers are in the midst of annual summer plant shutdowns, when some executives take vacations.

But a number of U.S. CEOs were in attendance, according to the White House list, including Jeff Martin of Sempra Energy SRE.N, Bob Swan of Intel Corp INTC.O, David Abney of United Parcel Service Inc UPS.N, Leon Topalian of Nucor Corp NUE.N, James Taiclet of Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N and Steven Schwarzman of Blackstone Group BX.N.

Mexican CEOs in attendance included Grupo Empresarial Angeles CEO Olegario Vazquez, Grupo Financiero Banorte Chairman Carlos Hank Gonzalez, Grupo Televisa co-CEO Bernardo Gomez and Mexican billionaire tycoon Carlos Slim, whose America Movil controls Mexico’s largest telecommunication network.

The Farm Bureau’s Duvall is quarantined at his Georgia dairy farm, and “is feeling strong and in good spirits,” Farm Bureau spokeswoman Terri Moore said.

Duvall had traveled only once within the past two weeks in an official capacity within Georgia, and hosts of those events and others he had come in contact with were being notified, she said.

Reporting by David Lawder, Alexandra Alper, Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal in Washington, Dave Graham in Mexico City, Joseph B. White in Detroit and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Peter Cooney