As C.E.O.s Condemn Splitting Up Migrant Families, Goldman Chief Defends Trump

Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, spoke at a luncheon at the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday.

As a chorus of corporate leaders condemned the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents, the White House on Tuesday got some surprising sympathy from a past critic: the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd C. Blankfein.

Mr. Blankfein described the situation on the United States’ southern border as “heart-rendering.” At a New York Economic Club lunch on Tuesday, however, he said, “It’s easy to criticize and it’s easy to say what you would do if you didn’t have to bear the consequences of what you decided.”

Mr. Blankfein’s measured view of the Trump administration’s policy was at odds with those of other corporate chief executives, some of whom expressed outrage on Tuesday.

“I think that what’s happening is inhumane, it needs to stop,” said Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive. Uber’s chief, Dara Khosrowshahi, called the policy “just plain wrong.” The Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives that Mr. Blankfein once co-chaired, described the separation of children from their parents as “cruel and contrary to American values.”

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase and the chairman of the Business Roundtable, sent an email to all of the bank’s employees Tuesday that condemned the Trump administration’s policy and said his “heart goes out to the impacted families.”

A Goldman spokesman said Mr. Blankfein “has long believed that on the broader topic of immigration, there are no easy answers, which is why it’s proven difficult for Washington to reach any sort of consensus.”

Business leaders are only the latest faction to speak out, joining public officials from both parties, Hollywood celebrities and even the first lady, Melania Trump, who said she “hates to see children separated from their families” and called for an immigration policy “with heart.”

Mr. Blankfein’s more restrained approach is notable in part because at times he has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. He was among the first chief executives to criticize the president’s travel and immigration ban in early 2017. He attacked Mr. Trump’s response to the racist violence in Charlottesville, Va., last year. He opposed the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. He even teased the White House for its faltering infrastructure initiative.

Goldman Sachs has churned out many politicians and presidential advisers, including Mr. Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and his first National Economic Council director, Gary D. Cohn. The road from Goldman to Washington is so heavily traveled that the firm is sometimes nicknamed “Government Sachs.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Blankfein, who is expected to retire later this year, sounded more like a buttoned-up Wall Street risk manager than like a lame-duck chief executive free to speak his mind.

The options for how to handle thousands of undocumented immigrants at the border were all difficult, Mr. Blankfein said. He added that while he wouldn’t separate children from parents, it was unfair to castigate the administration for its actions.

In policy matters like this one, he said, “it’s never right against wrong or good against evil.”

“There are adverse consequences on both sides, that’s what’s really tough,” Mr. Blankfein continued, “and I have a lot of sympathy on the one hand, but appreciation for the decision-making, and when something doesn’t quite work out right, I don’t want to kill the person that made the decision.”

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