Chamber of Commerce CEO Defends Endorsing Democrats, Says Ties With GOP Remain ‘Strong’

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
June 14, 2021 Updated: June 14, 2021

U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) president and CEO Suzanne Clark told Axios in an interview that the business group was right to endorse nearly two dozen House Democrats this past year, despite reports that the move has put a strain on the organization’s relationship with Republicans.

Clark, who took over as head of the USCC in March, said the group ignores party affiliation when seeking to build coalitions with lawmakers on priority issues. She said the endorsed House Democrats “really helped push business’s number one priority, which was the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, over the finish line,” according to Axios.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) took effect on July 1, 2020, with the USCC hailing its passage as “providing job creators with the certainty they need to invest, hire, and grow,” while describing the deal as one that would “foster prosperity for our societies for years to come.”

Ahead of the November 2020 election, the USCC drew scrutiny for backing 23 first-term Democrats. Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president, wrote in a Twitter post at the time that the USCC selects candidates for endorsement based upon scorecards on issues, rather than along party lines.

“While some focus on @USChamber endorsing 23 freshmen Ds, take note, Chamber also just endorsed GOP challengers to 4 freshmen Ds b/c they were below 70 [percent] on scorecard & challengers earned endorsement,” he wrote.

Bradley also released a list of the 29 Republican freshmen the USCC endorsed.

The USCC’s announcement that it was endorsing Democrats drew critical reactions from Republicans, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) calling the move hypocritical and rejecting any potential endorsement of himself by the organization.

“I don’t want the U.S. Chamber’s endorsement because they have sold out,” McCarthy said in an interview with Fox News. “It is hypocrisy that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would endorse the Democrats that are part of this socialist agenda that is driving this country out, and it’s fighting this president.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 18, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

In the interview with Axios, Clark was asked about the USCC’s relationship with Democrats and Republicans in Washington, which she described as “strong” on both counts. She was immediately challenged on that assertion by Axios reporter Mike Allen, who argued the Chamber’s relationship with Republicans had become weaker and marked by “hard feelings about those endorsements.”

Clark said her own impression of “conversations” with lawmakers on Capitol Hill was different, while standing by her characterization that those relationships are “strong.”

One of the USCC’s current priorities is encouraging a bipartisan resolution of negotiations on an infrastructure plan.

President Joe Biden kicked off infrastructure negotiations earlier this year when he announced a $2.3 trillion package that would be funded in part from a corporate tax rate hike.

Republicans opposed the package because the tax hike would partially roll back a key provision of their 2017 tax reform bill, and because Biden’s package included pieces deemed unrelated to infrastructure, such as $500 billion for elder and disabled care.

Negotiations led to a $1.7 trillion counteroffer from the White House and a $978 billion plan from Republicans.

Talks between Republicans and the White House hit a roadblock last week, turning instead to a bipartisan Senate group, which stated on June 10 that it had “reached a bipartisan agreement on a realistic compromise framework to modernize our nation’s infrastructure and energy technologies,” at a cost of $1.25 trillion.

Bradley, the USCC’s executive vice president, issued a statement hailing the bipartisan discussions, urging lawmakers to find common ground and avoid “divisive procedures,” referring to potentially advancing the infrastructure bill through budget reconciliation, without the need for Republican support.

“Recent infrastructure proposals by Senator Capito, yesterday’s plan by the Problem Solvers Caucus, and ongoing negotiations among the core group of bipartisan Senators proves there are paths that will lead to a bill that can be signed into law,” Bradley wrote. “We strongly encourage Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate to continue those efforts and avoid unnecessary, divisive, and time-consuming reconciliation procedures.”

“We commend those Members of Congress who are dedicated to doing the hard work of finding common ground.”

In the negotiations, Republicans have taken the view that an infrastructure deal should be more narrowly tailored to focus on physical needs such as investment in roads, bridges, and public transport, while Democrats have sought to include so-called human infrastructure in the package, such as child care, as well as climate change priorities.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'