May 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Inside Biden's CEO seduction

President Biden meets with CEOs in D.C. on Tuesday.

President Biden meets with a group of CEOs in the Roosevelt Room on Tuesday. Photo: The White House

President Biden is boosting his outreach to America's CEOs to try to ensure that his nearly $2 trillion in government spending to boost the economy is matched and multiplied by private-sector investments.

Why it matters: To win re-election, Biden needs the economy to keep growing, consumers to keep spending and businesses to keep hiring.

  • Enter the CEOs, including seven who met with Biden at the White House this week.
  • They can help juice the economy, validate Biden's overall approach and give him real-time feedback on how his policies are working.
  • Biden's team knows that business leaders can help shape public opinion about the economy — and it craves the kind of local headlines the CEOs can generate.

What we're hearing: In the White House's Roosevelt Room late Tuesday, Biden asked the CEOs — including United Airlines' Scott Kirby, Citi's Jane Fraser and Marriott International's Anthony Capuano — what they could do to help the economy keep its momentum.

  • The goal was to take the executives' temperature on what's actually happening in the economy, according to people who were in the room.
  • Biden administration officials welcomed feedback — or criticisms — on the nation's overall business climate and what Biden could do to improve it.
  • The two sides pledged to work together on how to improve the country's workforce — and make sure that companies can find enough skilled workers to build and operate clean tech and manufacturing facilities.

There also were some lighter moments.

  • White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients introduced Biden — who flies around on Air Force One — to United's Kirby as one of the few Americans who is "not one of your customers," Axios' sources said.

Zoom in: Other executives in the meeting were Revathi Advaithi of Flex, Roger Altman of Evercore, Brendan Bechtel of the Bechtel Group and Wendell P. Weeks of Corning.

  • Joining them was Ursula Burns, the retired Xerox CEO.
  • The group largely validated Biden's view that the U.S. economy is the envy of the world and that they — as well as other global CEOs — are eager to deploy capital in America.
  • The president emphasized that his goal was to encourage more private investments in the clean tech and manufacturing projects that have been seeded with funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Chips and Science Act.

Zoom out: This week's meeting was part of a larger effort in which Biden's team has contacted more than 100 CEOs.

  • It began in early February, when Zients hosted key members of the president's economic team at a working dinner at his home for a strategy session on ramping up their outreach to CEOs.
  • After the dinner with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard and White House aides Steve Ricchetti, Stephen Benjamin and Jenny Kaplan, officials devised a plan of attack.
  • For starters, administration officials each would meet with 10 CEOs, either in person or on a call.
  • "We're calling with no agenda, other than to find out what else we can do together to drive more investment in the U.S. economy," Adeyemo told Axios.

Reality check: The executives who met with Biden and his team at the White House this week don't speak for the entire business community, which has had some tension with Biden's administration.

  • In April, the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups sued the Federal Trade Commission over its move to ban noncompete clauses.
  • Throughout Biden's presidency, the oil and gas industry has been harshly critical of Biden's policies.
  • Big banks have been battling Biden on several fronts, especially over the administration's push for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to crack down on overdraft fees.
  • Several CEOs also have told the White House that Biden needs to streamline the process for obtaining permits for building and manufacturing projects if he wants to unlock the potential of his three signature spending packages.
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