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GOP rift with Chamber of Commerce widens over group’s leadership

Nov. 3, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 3, 2022 at 4:41 p.m.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in March 2021.   (Al Drago/Bloomberg)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in March 2021.  (Al Drago/Bloomberg)
By Billy House,Emily Birnbaum and Mark Niquette Bloomberg

A rift between the Republican Party and its chief ally in the business world, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is growing wider as the GOP eyes taking control of the House and the Senate after next week’s midterm election.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to become speaker if the GOP wins a House majority, has told members of the Chamber’s board that he has deep concerns about the organization’s leadership when they’ve asked him how to rebuild its credibility and repair what has become a tense relationship, according to a person familiar with the conversations.

Axios reported on Wednesday – citing unnamed sources – that McCarthy has gone further, telling Chamber members and its state leaders that the organization must replace its chief executive officer, Suzanne Clark, if Republicans win a House majority and he becomes speaker.

The Axios report ignited a swift statement of “complete support” for Clark from Mark Ordan, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors. The board’s executive committee is “unequivocally enthusiastic about Suzanne’s performance and the importance of her ongoing tenure as CEO of the U.S. Chamber,” he said.

McCarthy’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Tension between the GOP and the powerful business lobby, long considered a reliable ally of Republicans and their causes, has been growing as the Chamber pushed back against former President Donald Trump’s stances on trade and immigration policy.

It was exacerbated after the Chamber, in a departure from the past, endorsed 23 House Democrats for re-election in 2020 over Republican challengers. The Chamber also is backing a handful of Democrats in 2022. On Thursday, a Chamber official is scheduled to make an appearance with Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger, who is in a close contest for re-election in Virginia against Republican Yesli Vega.

The rift with the Chamber is part of wider tension between Republicans and the business community. Some Republican officeholders have vowed retaliation against companies that temporarily suspended political contributions to Republican members of Congress who objected to certification of Electoral College votes after the 2020 presidential election. There also has been a growing GOP backlash against companies adopting Environmental, Social and Governance, or ESG, policies.

An upstart business trade group, the American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, bills itself as an alternative to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and as the voice for businesses, especially smaller firms, confronting “woke capital” and “cancel culture.”

McCarthy and other House Republican leaders have been signaling dismay with the Chamber and a desire for a change in direction for some time. One House GOP official familiar with the tensions described frequent frustration by McCarthy and other Republicans, and said that the chamber’s members should be aware of how ineffective the organization will be with a Republican House majority, if changes aren’t made.

In a January interview with the right-wing website Breitbart, McCarthy said the Chamber has lost its influence with Republicans. “The Chamber left the party a long time ago,” he said.

David McIntosh, president of the anti-tax group Club for Growth, said he wouldn’t tell another group how to organize itself but that the Chamber “would be wise to take a long look” at what McCarthy is saying if it wants to work with GOP in Congress because the leaders have gotten away from the Chamber’s principles.

“Honestly, I think the U.S. Chamber has lost its way, that it no longer represents free enterprise,” McIntosh told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “It’s kind of sold out to Washington interests.”

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