Sep 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump, Pence criticize U.S. Chamber CEO

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office

Pence and Trump in the Oval Office Sept. 4. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence criticized the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during a phone call Thursday, venting their frustrations over its recent endorsement of nearly two dozen vulnerable House Democratic freshmen, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: Trump’s re-election is based largely on the idea that he has been a good steward of the economy, and if one of the largest business groups is seen as opposing him, it could undermine that case.

 What we're hearing: According to one of the sources, Trump asked Chamber CEO Tom Donohue whether the Democratic endorsements by the traditionally conservative-leaning lobbying group were a "done deal.”

  • Donohue stressed that this is a process the Chamber undergoes every election cycle, adding that the Chamber uses a scorecard system and has no plans to change its process midstream.
  • Pence then acknowledged that the Chamber has historically supported some number of Democrats in past election cycles, but added that he and the president were frustrated with the scope of the endorsement.

Donohue also reminded Trump of the importance of bipartisanship to get his priorities through, like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal that was heavily lobbied by the Chamber, the source said.

  • A second source familiar with the call confirmed the essence of this readout.

What they're saying: “We never comment on discussions with the White House,” a spokesperson for the Chamber told Axios.

  • Spokespersons for the White House and Pence did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The backstory: The Chamber has been embroiled in turmoil ever since the endorsements were announced.

  • Shortly after the announcement, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) issued a blistering rebuke of the group, telling Fox Business, "I don’t want the U.S. Chamber’s endorsement because they have sold out." Other top Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), followed his lead.

Behind the scenes: The tension heightened on Thursday after Breitbart published a story scorching the Chamber's chief policy officer, Neil Bradley.

  • "Today, political insiders credit him for wrecking the United States Chamber of Commerce’s political arm," the article stated.
  • Donald Trump Jr. slammed the Chamber on Twitter Friday, shortly before Trump and Pence called Donahue, tweeting a link to the Breitbart story and writing: "The national Chamber of Commerce wanted amnesty so bad that they cut a deal w/ the devil & sold out their local members to Pelosi & her socialist squad. SAD!"

The bottom line: Much of the frustration with the Chamber comes down to anxiety over the down-ballot races in November. Republicans widely see the party's path to reclaiming the House majority as virtually impossible if the Democratic incumbents endorsed by the Chamber hold onto their seats.

Editor's note: This story has been updated and the headline has been changed to note that the call took place on Thursday, not Friday.

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