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Friday, September 25, 2020

Chamber of Commerce talks peace with Senate Dems as McConnell's majority teeters


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce helped bankroll the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014. Now, it’s preparing to expand outreach to Senate Democrats as they challenge for the majority in 2020.

Jack Howard, the Chamber’s senior vice president of congressional and public affairs, announced during a Friday morning staff video conference that the organization would be an engaging in an “all-hands-on-deck … serious, sustained” effort to “normalize our relationships” with Senate Democrats, according to a clip of the meeting obtained by POLITICO.

“I don’t want anyone to be under any illusion about how challenging this will be. We’re starting frankly from a deep hole with a lot of Senate Democrats. So on the outreach side things are going to be very dicey,” Howard continued.

The remarks come with Democrats leading Republican senators in the polls in several key states — and with the pro-business, traditionally conservative Chamber facing a precarious moment.

The group has clashed with President Donald Trump on issues including trade and immigration and is now facing an internal revolt over its decision to endorse a slate of vulnerable freshmen House Democrats for reelection. The move represented a major shift for the Chamber, which has long endorsed and funded Republican candidates and backed few Democrats in recent years. In 2014, the Chamber’s political director declared that making McConnell the majority leader was the group’s “number one priority.”

The organization has aired commercials backing several Senate GOP candidates in this election. But the outfit has pared back its electoral spending this year, investing just a fraction of what it devoted to the GOP’s push for the majority six years ago.

After Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 midterms, the Chamber signaled plans to take a more bipartisan approach. But senior GOP officials have lashed out at the lobbying group following its Democratic endorsements, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declaring that he no longer wanted the Chamber’s support.

Trump last week reached out to Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue to complain about the endorsements, a conversation that was first reported by Axios.

A Chamber spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Howard — who previously worked for an array of top congressional Republicans, including ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott — cautioned that the Chamber shouldn’t assume that the “progress we made this year with House Democrats carry over this year to the Senate.”

But he said the Chamber’s network of local partners gave it “an important strategic advantage ... that a lot of groups don’t have,” adding that
“we should approach many of these offices, particularly on the Senate side, through our local Chamber partners to see if we can transfer any of that goodwill to a working relationship in Washington.”



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