The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which routinely spends more on federal lobbying than any other organization, plans to push lawmakers and the Biden administration to expand legal immigration this year but will fight “government overreach” in numerous other policy areas, CEO Suzanne P. Clark said Tuesday.
The chamber, a significant player in congressional elections as well as in policy and legislation, has struggled to navigate changing dynamics on Capitol Hill, as some Republicans follow a populist route that denounces “country club Republicans” while some liberals condemn “corporate Democrats” and boast of their refusal to take business PAC donations.
Clark, in the chamber’s annual address to offer its policy and political agenda for the 2022 midterm-election year, said the business group planned to do more to challenge hard-liners as it fights against tax increases and new regulations.
“We have to be as loud as the extremists,” she said. “We have to be as passionate about our interests as those on the far left and the far right.”
Clark took over the group from longtime leader Tom Donohue amid internal shuffling and turmoil over its agenda and political endorsements. The group’s lobbying and elections strategies have led to strained relations with members of both parties, including longtime GOP operatives who were miffed in 2020 when the group endorsed a slate of freshman Democrats.
Clark and Neil Bradley, the group’s executive vice president and a former House GOP leadership aide, said the chamber would make endorsements and spend in key congressional races but declined to offer much detail.
“We’ll spend an amount and in places that we think can make a difference to support candidates in both parties who are committed to free enterprise and advancing the interests of the business community,” Bradley told reporters during a virtual news conference following Clark’s speech. “But it’s way too early to say in January exactly where that’s going to be, in what races and in what dollars.”
He noted that House races were continuing to shape up with some states still working to finalize their congressional maps. “We’re closely monitoring the new districts,” Bradley said. “We’re looking to see what candidates are running in those districts. Obviously, we’re watching the emergence of these Senate races, no redistricting there, but candidate fields haven’t settled yet.”
Critics of the chamber have blasted the group for not getting on board with Democrats’ push for voting rights and elections overhaul bills in the Senate. The chamber has opposed key elements of Democrats’ campaign finance overhaul proposals, some of which are included in the election overhaul known in the Senate as the Freedom to Vote Act.
“The Chamber of Commerce, and its members, can and must do the right thing to defend and strengthen American democracy by joining the groundswell of voices calling on the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act,” Jana Morgan, who leads the Declaration for American Democracy coalition, which is pushing for the bills, said in a statement. “Time is running out.”
Critics of corporations have also questioned the chamber’s donations to members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results for President Joe Biden on Jan. 6, 2021.
Bradley reiterated that when it comes to political donations, the chamber plans to evaluate whom to support “by the totality of their actions,” not just how lawmakers voted on the 2020 election.
“We will take into consideration their positions on issues important to the chamber as well as whether they’re helping address this competition of ideas in the political marketplace, while also contributing to a system that can help solve problems,” he said. He added that the chamber had donated to members who voted against certifying the election as well as to some who had voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting the violent attack on the Capitol last year.
The chamber also plans to face off against Democrats on Capitol Hill and the Biden administration, fighting against such priorities as the party’s stalled-in-the-Senate social spending and tax package as well as regulatory proposals.
“We are seeing a growing and troubling number of proposals out of Congress that substitute a government check for a paycheck,” Clark said.