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US Chamber pushes immigration overhaul, trade deals

Amid friction with House GOP leaders, business lobby calls for bipartisanship

Amid friction between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some House Republican leaders, the K Street group’s executives have urged the divided Congress and the Biden administration to work across the political aisle.
Amid friction between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some House Republican leaders, the K Street group’s executives have urged the divided Congress and the Biden administration to work across the political aisle. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s biggest lobbying group, unveiled its yearly legislative agenda Thursday, calling for overhauls of immigration law and federal permitting procedures as well as new trade deals.  

Amid friction with some House Republican leaders over its endorsements of some Democratic candidates, the K Street group’s executives urged the divided Congress, and the Biden administration, to work across the political aisle and to avoid brinkmanship over raising the debt limit.

“We’re locked in this cycle of hyperpartisanship and political power swings,” Suzanne P. Clark, the group’s president and CEO, said in an annual “State of American Business” address that was held online. 

“Both political parties promise they’ll do the big, hard things when they gain full control, and can do it their way, without the give-and-take that comes from working across the aisle. The other party promises to undo those things when they get a majority in Congress, which often turns out to be the very next election,” she added. 

That political backdrop, Clark said, turns into constant uncertainty for U.S. companies.

“It means businesses don’t have the clarity or the certainty to plan past the next political cycle,” she said. 

She added that current immigration policies, and the U.S.-Mexico border situation, also are not helping businesses. 

“When a border crisis allows millions to cross illegally into this country, but we can’t get visas processed for engineers and nurses that businesses are desperate to hire and communities need, government isn’t working,” she said.  

Both Clark and Neil Bradley — the chamber’s executive vice president, chief policy officer and head of strategic advocacy — downplayed previous rifts with House GOP leaders and said the lobbying group had no regrets about any of its political endorsements, which skew toward Republicans but also include Democrats like Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger

“No, there’s no buyer’s remorse about our endorsements this cycle,” Bradley said during a news conference Thursday after Clark’s speech. “The reality is that nothing is going to get done in Washington, unless you’re able to work with both sides of the aisle. Our threshold’s really simple: Do you support business? And if you support business, and you’re willing to work with business, then we’re willing to work with you. And so we have zero regrets about the people we support.”

House GOP sources, including members of Congress, and other people familiar with the chamber privately say the relationship between the chamber and the House Republican majority remains strained. The tensions are rooted in issues such as the chamber’s endorsements of a slate of Democrats in the 2020 elections as well as corporate America’s support for an immigration overhaul and its embrace of environmental, social and governance policies.

The chamber routinely spends the most on federal lobbying as reported to Congress. Though that top-dollar spending continued in 2022, total revenue for the chamber declined in 2021, according to the group’s tax filing, to $204 million from $230 million the prior year.  

Some House Republican leadership aides said publicly last year that they would hold meetings with chamber officials. During the news conference, a reporter asked Clark when was the last time she’d spoken with or had a meeting with Speaker Kevin McCarthy or someone else from House Republican leadership.

“I am sure that we are in touch with every office you are thinking about on a weekly basis,” Clark said. “I can’t think of one that we’re not. And so I can keep saying that, and everybody can keep asking this question. And I will say again, what I said on TV this morning, which is we have a great speaker of the House. He is going to be powerful.

“He’s going to get a lot done,” she said, “and we’re going to be there to support him on permitting reform, on border security and immigration reform, on real oversight on some of this government regulation, overregulation, on energy production.”

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