The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s premier business lobbying group, brought lawmakers together on Thursday to give them awards for leading and working across party lines — in order to boost top corporate priorities
The Chamber is one of the most powerful, well-funded lobbying organizations in Washington. In 2018, the trade association brought in $168 million in revenue. Last year, it spent $82 million on federal lobbying efforts. The Chamber doesn’t publicly disclose its members, but its board of directors includes executives at major companies across all sectors of the U.S. economy.
While the organization primarily backed Republicans for years, in 2019, the Chamber announced a new “strategic decision”: It would start rewarding bipartisanship and support politicians on both sides of the aisle. The change has mostly meant working to curry favor with conservative Democrats most likely to oppose key progressive agenda items, such as a $15 minimum wage, expanding Medicare, or implementing a Green New Deal.
On Thursday, the Chamber held its “Second Annual Bipartisanship and Leadership Awards,” where it announced the winners of its “Jefferson-Hamilton Award for Bipartisanship.” The organization explained that its bipartisanship scores are determined based on which lawmakers cosponsored the most bills introduced by a member of the other party — as long as the Chamber hadn’t formally opposed the proposals.
Conservative Democrats received some of the organization’s highest marks for bipartisanship. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey received perfect 100-percent scores. Other Democratic winners included Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas and Abby Spanberger of Virginia, as well as Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Manchin, Sinema, Tester, and King played key roles in blocking a $15 minimum wage. Sinema and Manchin have been the most public opponents of eliminating the Senate filibuster, a rule that allows Republicans to block most legislation if Democrats can’t find 60 votes, arguing that doing so would prevent Democrats and Republicans from working together.
Also included among the winners of the Chamber’s bipartisanship award were two Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election: Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York.
The awards followed the Chamber’s announcement that it would not suspend political support to lawmakers who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania and Arizona.
While many corporate political action committees said they would no longer donate to Republicans who voted to sustain objections to the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, the Chamber wrote in March: “We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification.”
The Abraham Lincoln Award
The Chamber also bestowed its “Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award” to lawmakers who had proved most eager to toe the Chamber’s corporate party line.
“Since the start of the 116th Congress, the Chamber has urged members to cosponsor certain bills and refrain from cosponsoring others,” the organization explained on its website. “This award is based on the number of times a member took the recommended actions.”
While the Chamber awarded the honor to more than 30 lawmakers, two members of the group — Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C, and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev. — attended the event to accept the accolade.
“This is the kind of conversations that business leaders love to hear because we’re looking for solutions,” Chamber Executive Vice President Neil Bradley told the senators during the awards show. “The CEOs who are gathered here today, when they're presented with problems, they don't often get to blame someone else, they’ve got to come up with a solution. And I think what we like from talking with both of you, and the reason we've given you the Abraham Lincoln award is, you guys are both looking for solutions to problems.”
When Bradley asked the award winners how the Chamber could support them, Scott replied, “I would say to use President Lincoln, the way that he governed, as an example. Bring people who don’t agree together. His book, Team of Rivals, is a really important work when you think about the fact that he articulates and says very clearly that some of his mentors are people who ran against him, some of his mentors are people who disagreed with him.” (Doris Kearns Goodwin published the Abraham Lincoln biography, Team of Rivals, in 2005.)
Rosen also brought up Lincoln. “It's hard to follow [Scott] because he's so terrific,” she said. “But as Abraham Lincoln said, ‘A house divided cannot stand.’”
She also encouraged members of the Chamber to meet lawmakers over private dinners.
“What you can do, as a business roundtable, whether it is at the national level, [is] bring us together for some off-the-record dinners, let us just talk and get to know each other and get to know you,” Rosen said. “Or whether it’s in our own communities, we can do those same things. It's important that you sometimes just sit down and get a chance to know people without necessarily a formal agenda. And that carries you through a lot of things.”
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