When the bosses of some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies headed to Washington in January to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, it had all the makings of a potentially hostile meeting.
Just weeks before, Trump had sent drug stock prices plummeting after accusing the companies of “getting away with murder” by charging too much for medicines.
But the Trump who greeted chief executives of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ, +0.76%), Novartis (NVS, +0.43%), Merck (MRK, -0.11%), Eli Lilly (LLY, +0.64%), Celgene (CELG, -2.62%), and Amgen (AMGN, +1.23%) on Jan. 31 was a surprisingly genial host who even gave them a personal tour of the Oval Office, according to several participants in the breakfast.
“There is no question that it was better than it could have been or we thought it could be,” said one industry insider familiar with the meeting.
Trump did not repeat his public attacks on the industry. Instead, he focused on “outdated” regulations that drive costs up for drugmakers, according to participants interviewed by Reuters. The CEOs left with Trump’s word that he would streamline regulations and reform the high U.S. corporate tax rate.
Since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump has held at least nine meetings with groups of business leaders, including automakers, airlines, retailers and health insurers. On Wednesday, he was hosting lunch for a group of New York real estate developers and private equity CEOs, during which possible private-public partnerships on infrastructure would be discussed, according to a person briefed on the meeting.
In early morning or late-night tweets and in speeches, Trump has lambasted many of these companies for cost over-runs, or high prices, or foreign manufacturing, often knocking down their share prices.
But Reuters interviews with nearly a dozen executives and lobbyists who have taken part in these meetings or have been briefed on them reveal a Trump who is very different from his uncompromising and demanding @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle.
When he meets the nation’s top chief executives in person, he is a mix of charm and cajoling. This Trump is flexible and inquisitive, a schmoozer who remembers birthdays and often lavishes praise on their companies, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity so they could freely discuss private meetings.