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U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) holds a news conference in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, February 2, 2023.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The two highest-ranking Republican leaders in the U.S. House are going to war with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the new Congress takes shape.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise both refuse to meet with the the Chamber after the lobbying group endorsed a handful of Democrats in the last two elections, clearly making an enemy of two of the most powerful leaders in Congress.
“The priorities of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have not aligned with the priorities of House Republicans or the interests of their own members, and they should not expect a meeting with Speaker McCarthy as long as that’s the case,” Mark Bednar, a chief spokesman for McCarthy, told CNBC in a statement.
Scalise also won’t meet with the Chamber, according to spokeswoman Lauren Fine.
“Washington has radically shifted away from the pro-business philosophy of most local Chambers across America,” she said. Fine also took aim at the Chamber’s move to endorse Democrats running for House seats and said that “unless the Chamber gets back to their traditional pro-business roots, they should not expect to have any engagement with Majority Leader Scalise’s office.”
Denying the Chamber access could also prompt other House Republicans to block the nation’s largest business organization.
The Chamber has continued to actively lobby Capitol Hill despite the ongoing battle with top Republicans. The group spent just under $21 million on lobbying in the fourth quarter of last year alone, according to their latest disclosure report. The form shows they lobbied lawmakers in the House and Senate, as well as Biden White House officials, on a wide variety of bills, including new tax proposals as well as U.S. aid to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
McCarthy’s refusal to meet with the Chamber is the latest strike in an ongoing feud between some House Republican members and the Chamber of Commerce. The Intercept reported that House Republicans plan to investigate the Chamber as GOP lawmakers take on anyone who supports President Joe Biden’s push for more environmental, social, and governance (ESG) regulations. The Daily Caller reported that the Chamber plans to sue the Securities and Exchange Commission if it goes forward with a climate change related disclosure rule.
Republican House lawmakers are drafting questions to send the Chamber in the coming weeks, asking about its stance on ESG issues as well as questioning some of the Chamber’s own conduct, including the reportedly allowing former Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue use the trade group’s corporate jet for personal trips, according to lawmakers and advisors aiming to probe the organization. These people declined to be named in order to speak freely about private discussions.
Tim Doyle, a spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce, told CNBC in a statement that the group’s policies are more in line with House Republicans than Democrats.
“The Chamber’s priorities include lower taxes, reduced spending, fighting overregulation and numerous other issues, and we are aligned with House Republicans on many of the issues that are important to American businesses of all sizes,” Doyle said. “We do disagree with those who believe the Chamber should become a single-party partisan organization and we recognize that difference has created some tension. We will continue, however, to do what we have done for over 110 years and that is advance the free-market priorities of the American business community.”
Representatives for House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., did not return requests for comment.
McCarthy’s ire against the Chamber started after the group endorsed 23 House Democrats in the 2020 election cycle when Republicans failed to regain the majority. The Chamber reportedly endorsed 23 House Republican candidates and four Democrats during the 2022 election fight.
McCarthy told Breitbart News last year before the recent November elections that “the Chamber left the party a long time ago” and criticized the organization for endorsing Democrats. ” I just assume they have as much influence in the future as they do now — none,” McCarthy said at the time.
Axios reported that McCarthy has privately discussed with Chamber of Commerce board members and state leaders the idea of replacing current Chamber president and CEO Suzanne Clark. The Chamber’s CEO was recently approved for a new five-year term, according to a memo sent to the board of directors by Mark Ordan, the chair of the board. The memo was sent to members of the board on Monday.
While McCarthy takes aim at the Chamber, the business lobbying juggernaut continues its business as usual.
Neil Bradley, a former deputy chief of staff to McCarthy and the current executive vice president and chief policy officer at the Chamber, recently said its “team engages leadership and chairmen and rank-and-file members on a daily and weekly basis. That’s always been the case and hasn’t changed in the past year.”
The Chamber of Commerce’s latest public tax documents from 2021 show that the organization raised just over $197 million that year, on top of the $218 million it raised in 2020. More than $105 million of its budget in 2021 went toward salaries and employee benefits, the forms show.
Donohue, who stepped down as CEO from the Chamber in 2021, still picked up $9.2 million in total compensation that year. Donohue’s compensation in 2021 included $8.95 million in bonus and incentive pay, according to the forms.
“The compensation for Mr. Donohue included his bonus payment for 2020 activities and a prorated portion of his bonus payment for 2021 activities, both of which were paid to him in 2021,” the filing says.
Clark, who is now president and CEO of the lobbying group, saw a total compensation of $5.1 million in 2021, according to the forms. That includes a bonus and incentive package of $3.75 million.
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