© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nation's Largest Business Lobby Backs Vulnerable Democrats For Reelection

Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., is one of 23 freshmen Democrats whom the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is endorsing in this fall's elections.
Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., is one of 23 freshmen Democrats whom the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is endorsing in this fall's elections.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is backing more House Democrats for reelection in at least a decade, prompting pushback from some of its strongest GOP allies in Congress.

"It is hypocrisy that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would endorse these Democrats that are part of this socialist agenda that is driving this country out and is fighting this president," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., recently told Fox News.

The Chamber is technically a nonpartisan organization, but its pro-business agenda has historically aligned it more closely with Republicans. And it still is: This year the group is endorsing more than six times as many Republicans (192) than Democrats (30) in the U.S. House of Representatives for reelection. However, most of the Republicans who got the endorsement are running in safe seats, while most of the Democrats who were endorsed are in swing seats that will determine control of the House this November. Democrats are heavily favored to hold the majority, but Republicans are at the very least trying to eat away at their numbers.

Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, a small-business owner, is one of the Chamber-backed freshmen. She told NPR the group's endorsement carries weight with voters in districts such as hers. "Having an endorsement from the Chamber showing that I'm in support of issues that keeps them alive and strong, I think it does make a difference to them," she said.

Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told NPR that endorsements are based on members' voting records on specific pieces of legislation, such as the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement. Any lawmaker who votes with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at least 70% of the time gets its support. This year, more Democrats in at least a decade did just that.

"A couple things are driving this high number: the large number of Democratic freshmen, their willingness and desire to work with us, and them representing their districts in supporting business community priorities," said Bradley, a former top House Republican leadership aide.

The endorsements have angered GOP leaders and some local chambers of commerce in states such as Oklahoma and Kansas, but Bradley said the business community response has been positive. "There's been overwhelming support for recognizing we need to be able to work with Republicans and Democrats, and we ought to be willing to stand with those who stood with us on our priorities."

Politically, it provides these vulnerable Democrats with an easy counterpunch to the case Republicans are making against them — that they want to take the country in a more "socialist" direction. "I hate that everything in this election season is trying to be just binary, as if only one party can be strong on the economy," said Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., another Chamber-backed freshman.

While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has leaned more heavily on the Republican Party to advance its goals, Bradley said there is potential to work with Democrats on certain issues that see shifting political alliances. "There are increasingly issues in which a large, growing number of Republicans disagree with the business community, whether it's trade or immigration, for example," he said.

Bradley said the message an endorsement from his organization sends is this: "That they're willing, irrespective of partisanship, to help advance the business community's priorities to help create more jobs and a more prosperous America."

McCarthy feels differently. "Well I'll tell you this: I don't want the U.S. Chamber's endorsement, because they have sold out," he told Fox. McCarthy is heavily favored to win reelection. The Chamber has endorsed him.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.