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Exclusive: Chamber of Commerce CEO to push a more bipartisan agenda

Photo illustration of Chambers of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue.
Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Eric Piermont/Getty Images

Tom Donohue, the longtime CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will deliver a speech Thursday urging bipartisan support for issues that Democrats hold dear — like climate change and infrastructure investment, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The Chamber is the largest business organization in the U.S., and some of Donohue's remarks will be a departure for a group that has, under his leadership, "battled environmental regulations, restrictions on cigarette packaging, workplace antidiscrimination rules and minimum-wage requirements," as WSJ put it.

The big picture: The remarks Donohue plans to deliver today — provided first to Axios — will call for the passing of "35 bipartisan bills that can help address climate change through innovation and investment."

  • "Inaction is not an option," Donohue will argue in the speech, which will be carried live at 10 a.m. Eastern on the Chamber's website. "So let’s flip the conventional wisdom that nothing gets done in an election year."
  • The remarks will stress bipartisan action, and follow a meeting with "a dozen Democratic and Republican lawmakers to talk about all the things we want to do together in 2020."
  • Donohue also will argue for immigration reform — though the Chamber has long advocated letting more immigrants come to the U.S., to help companies fill jobs.

Between the lines: The speech marks the latest break from the staunch support for Republicans that has been a hallmark of the organization for years, after the Chamber got a cold-shoulder from President Trump, as the WSJ detailed last year.

The backstory: Last April, the Chamber was dubbed by the Washington Post as "the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Washington."

  • The Post article said it had 499 full-time employees, a 95% renewal rate among its members (though it doesn't publish a list, there are said to be 3 million). It also said that members pay $100,000 or more in annual dues — and that the Chamber pulled in $233 million in revenue (with no debt) in 2018.
  • Donohue is set to leave the organization in 2022 after relinquishing his role as president last year. His departure came amid a WSJ investigation that found he spent lavishly on corporate jets provided by the Chamber for both professional and personal trips.

The bottom line: In 2019 the Chamber began working to move away from the GOP and embrace more centrist policies, as the lobbying group clashed with Trump on some positions, most notably immigration, trade and climate change.