Trump’s ex-UN envoy quits Boeing board in protest over bailout

Nikki Haley leaves after less than a year on Boeing’s board. (AP pic)

CHICAGO: Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, is leaving Boeing Co’s board after less than a year, saying she opposes the planemaker’s decision to seek a US bailout amid the coronavirus crisis.

“I cannot support a move to lean on the federal government for a stimulus or bailout that prioritises our company over others and relies on taxpayers to guarantee our financial position,” Haley said in a March 16 letter that Boeing disclosed Thursday.

“I have long held strong convictions that this is not the role of government.”

Haley – a rising star in Republican politics who is widely expected to consider a run for president herself in 2024 – is exiting the board just as Boeing begins a contentious fight on Capitol Hill over its push for US$60 billion in federal aerospace aid.

The Chicago-based company is rushing to shore up its finances while the coronavirus torpedoes travel demand and sparks the worst predicament in decades for airlines and aircraft manufacturers.

“The former governor probably has a sense that her being linked to the receiving end of a bailout would damage her bona fides as a fiscal conservative, in addition to having possible negative effects on her reputation if the Trump administration bungles this economic stimulus,” said Michael Latner, political science professor at California Polytechnic State University.

‘Potential policy mishaps’

“Public assessments of the last recession-linked corporate bailouts are not positive, so it makes sense for Haley to distance herself from the potential policy mishaps that are about to occur,” Latner said.

Haley was elected to two terms as governor of South Carolina, where she helped Boeing fend off an unionisation drive at its 787 Dreamliner plant in North Charleston.

She is one of the few people who left Trump’s administration on good terms, finding ways to occasionally distance herself from the boss but remaining a steadfast supporter after announcing her resignation as ambassador to the UN in October 2018.

In explaining her exit from the board, Haley said she couldn’t support the drive by Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun and the rest of the oversight body to seek a bailout.

“While I know cash is tight, that is equally true for numerous other industries and for millions of small businesses,” she said in the letter.

Boeing, in a statement, said, “We appreciate her service on the board and wish her well.”

Failure risk

Activist investor Bill Ackman, the head of Pershing Square Capital Management, said this week that Boeing won’t survive without government help.

Boeing has tumbled 71% over the last month, the biggest drop by far on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The shares fell 4.1% to US$97.71 at the close in New York.

“Haley clearly doesn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation,” said Loren Thompson, an aerospace analyst and chief operating officer for Lexington Institute, a think tank that has accepted contributions from aerospace companies including Boeing.

“This sounds like political posturing more than responsible director behaviour. Perhaps Boeing can pick another board member with aerospace credentials.”