Updated Nov 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: McCarthy privately floats replacing Chamber leadership

A man in a suit on the left; a women in a suit on the right

Photos: Roy Rochlin, Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy is telling U.S. Chamber of Commerce board members and state leaders the organization must undertake a complete leadership change and replace current president and CEO Suzanne Clark, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: McCarthy’s direct conversations make clear he will not work with Clark and her leadership team if Republicans win control and he becomes House speaker.

  • But he’s charting a potential path forward for the business group to reestablish a relationship with the GOP conference.

What they're saying: Mark Ordan, chairman of the board of directors, told Axios that Clark continues to have the "complete support" of the executive committee.

  • “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce team serves a vital role in the daily defense of American business," he said. "We serve our members, not a political party." 
  • "Staying true to that mission requires a smart, savvy, vigorous leader like our CEO Suzanne Clark," he said. "It is for that reason that our governing body, the executive committee of the board of directors, is unequivocally enthusiastic about Suzanne’s performance and the importance of her ongoing tenure as CEO of the U.S. Chamber. She has our complete support.”

What we're hearing: Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has privately expressed interest in the job.

The big picture: McCarthy’s conversations with chamber board members, essentially undermining Clark, marks another escalation in the open conflict between House GOP leaders and the chamber.

  • The conflict stems from an August 2020 decision by the chamber, once seen as a functional campaign appendage of the Republican Party, to endorse 23 Democratic freshmen for re-election. Fifteen of those lawmakers won, putting the speakership out of reach for McCarthy at the time.
  • It appears to have permanently soured the relationship. Other Republicans have criticized what they see as a progressive turn by the business-friendly group.
  • "You see the U.S. Chamber endorsing a lot of these Democrats who voted for all of this anti-business policy," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said on an Arizona radio show last month, referring to some of President Biden's signature legislation.
  • "I'm a pro-business guy. I thought y'all used to represent small businesses across America," Scalise said. "Unfortunately, they've kind of veered away from that. We're trying to try to get them to come back to their roots."

"Republicans across the country having been running on issues, such as crime and inflation, important to the business community," said a Chamber spokesperson. "A Republican speaker and majority will be an important check and balance on the excesses we’ve seen from the left. We look forward to working with the leadership and next Congress."

Go deeper: Conservative Republicans have been working to undercut the chamber, with the House Republican Study Committee bolstering a potential rival business lobbying group, the American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, to an official meeting in June.

  • At the gathering, RSC chairman Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who is close to McCarthy, said he was "increasingly frustrated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for supporting woke policies and enriching China," Axios reported.

Between the lines: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has maintained a better relationship with Senate Republicans. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addressing the group in September, expressed private optimism that the GOP can win back control of the Senate.

  • In September, the chamber endorsed Republican Mehmet Oz in his Pennsylvania Senate race after earlier directing $3 million to the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund super PAC for the Pennsylvania race.
  • Of the roughly 60 competitive races in the House, the chamber has endorsed candidates they view as pro-business, including 23 Republicans and four Democrats, according to a chamber spokesperson.

The intrigue: Clark answers to a 12-member executive committee, which voted for her to succeed longtime CEO Tom Donohue in February 2021.

The bottom line: Republicans in Congress are prepared to go to war with the business community, once the cornerstone of their coalition, for what many in their ranks view as an unforgivable shift: Focusing less on profit and more on politics.

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