The main business lobby in politics has not made contact with the House speaker’s office to discuss the debt ceiling standoff even as the country inches closer to default.
A spokesperson for Kevin McCarthy’s office said, as far as it was aware, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, once a staunch Republican ally, has not reached out to lobby on the debt ceiling.
In an interview, the Chamber’s chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, said the organization or its state and local affiliates have likely spoken with more than 150 lawmakers over the last several months about the need to raise the debt ceiling. But the U.S. Chamber has not met with McCarthy because such a meeting would just be a “cheerleading session,” Bradley said.
However, he said, the Chamber has advocated for a bipartisan agreement directly to the White House.
“I see the relationship as respectful, so I’m not worried about wasting his time to come in and say, ‘look how much I agree with you,’” Bradley said when asked whether he saw the McCarthy relationship as unsalvageable.
The lack of outreach to McCarthy underscores the tricky situation the Chamber finds itself in as the likelihood of a default and the accompanying damage to the economy has increased. With the speaker and President Joe Biden engaged in negotiations marked by fits and starts, the White House had been hoping that business groups would apply more pressure to House Republicans to help resolve the standoff with minimal drama. Instead, the main lobby for those groups has not raised concerns about brinkmanship to the speaker.
The Chamber’s relationship with McCarthy’s office has grown rocky in recent years after it endorsed a number of House Democrats in the 2020 election cycle. The group’s decision to criticize then-President Donald Trump on a host of issues — from trade to immigration — and to align itself with Biden on other matters prompted backlash from conservatives.
The Chamber has tried to repair those relations. But the absence of more direct engagement in the debt limit fight suggests a tacit recognition that it does not hold the sway it once did within GOP circles. To date, the Chamber has implored the White House against invoking the 14th Amendment to argue that the debt limit is constitutionally invalid. Instead, it has urged the White House to engage in negotiations with Republicans. The Chamber sees itself aligned with McCarthy on this issue, said Bradley, including on matters like some discretionary spending caps, speeding up energy permitting, and additional work requirements for government programs.
“I worked for Kevin, I worked for Speaker McCarthy. I am a fan of Speaker McCarthy’s,” Bradley said. “On a completely personal note, I don’t know that anyone could do a better job in the situation that he’s in, that he has, and I have tremendous respect for the work and the success that he has.”
The Chamber of Commerce’s reception among Hill Republicans has soured in recent years. The Intercept reported last fall that Republicans intended to investigate the group, should they take control of the House, and Axios reported that McCarthy was agitating for a leadership shakeup at the group. The No. 2 House Republican, Steve Scalise, has also said the relationship could not be repaired until there was a change in Chamber leadership, a spokesperson told POLITICO in an email.
The animosity toward the Chamber appears to be shared by Republicans in the Senate.
“When your friends aren’t your friends anymore, you should stop treating them like your friends,” said one Republican Senate leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to address the situation.
While the U.S. Chamber has not talked directly to McCarthy’s office, individual businesses entities do appear to be working GOP leadership figures. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who has been deputized by the Speaker to help lead debt ceiling negotiations, said his texts have been filled with messages from business leaders.