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Chamber eyes CEO change just weeks into Biden presidency

Chamber eyes CEO change just weeks into Biden presidency
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The early departure of a longtime leader at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is coming just weeks into Joe BidenJoe BidenAtlanta mayor won't run for reelection South Carolina governor to end pandemic unemployment benefits in June Airplane pollution set to soar with post-pandemic travel boom MORE’s presidency as the powerful business lobbying organization adapts to a Democratic-led Congress and White House.

CEO Thomas Donohue, 82, is expected to leave almost 18 months earlier than previously announced after more than two decades at the helm of the Chamber. Donohue said in June 2019 that he would stay on for three more years in the post.

Chamber President Suzanne Clark is reportedly set to replace Donohue.

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“The Board is engaged in a rigorous multiyear succession process to name a new CEO. When a final decision has been reached, there will be an announcement,” a spokesperson for the Chamber said, while declining to address questions about the reason for Donohue’s early exit.

Donohue served as both president and CEO starting in 1997 before Clark took over as president in 2019. Clark previously was the Chamber’s senior executive vice president and has been at the organization since 2014 following a previous stint, from 1997 to 2007, when she was executive vice president and chief operating officer.

She will now have to set the tone for the Chamber’s relations with the new administration and Capitol Hill following controversy in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

The Chamber, which has traditionally been aligned with Republicans, came under intense criticism last year for its unprecedented endorsement of 23 first-term House Democrats.

The controversial move was swiftly rebuked by many Republicans. Former President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE reportedly asked Donohue if they were a “done deal,” and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyLoyalty trumps policy in Stefanik's rise, Cheney's fall Cheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Likely Cheney successor appears on Bannon show to tout GOP unity MORE (R-Calif.) said he didn’t want the Chamber’s endorsement “because they have sold out.”

The Chamber’s former top political adviser, Scott Reed, was forced out of his post in September, weeks before Election Day. He had spent almost a decade at the Chamber and was a key driver behind hundreds of millions in campaign advertising for candidates over the years.

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Those upheavals came on the heels of years of criticizing some of Trump’s policies, mostly on immigration and trade.

Some of Clark’s former colleagues say she is up to the challenge of steering the Chamber in the right direction as it navigates Washington’s shift in power.

“She has the right vision to lead the organization into the future, as all associations must evolve to meet their members’ needs at time when longstanding institutions like the Chamber are facing enormous challenges from the ongoing pandemic to the economy and the political environment,” said Matt Haller, who worked in the Chamber’s political department from 2003 to 2007 and is now vice president of government relations at the International Franchise Association.

Clark founded and led the consulting firm Potomac Research Group from 2010 to 2015. Before that, she was president of National Journal from 2007 to 2010.

Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, touted Clark as a good asset to the business community. He previously led the Chamber’s political affairs and federal relations efforts.

“Suzanne is a great leader. If the speculation is true, this is not only good for the Chamber, but good for American business and the association world in general,” he said.

Another challenge facing the Chamber is whether to reengage with GOP lawmakers who objected to the Electoral College results from 2020.

The Chamber last month was among the major business groups that said it would halt political contributions to certain lawmakers following the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol last month, though it did not indicate which lawmakers would lose its support.

The group’s political action committee is typically a reliable resource for Republicans.

Clark announced in September that Neil Bradley, chief political officer at the Chamber who used to work for McCarthy, will oversee a new division aimed at increasing the Chamber’s influence and advocacy through government affairs, policy and political affairs and federal relations.

Those kinds of changes, according to some of Clark’s peers, were much needed.

“Suzanne has brought welcome changes to the Chamber in recent years — modernizing functions, injecting new talent, pursuing bipartisanship and promoting diversity. This is a great opportunity for her, and we’re excited to support her efforts,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO, Consumer Brands Association.

Susan Neely, president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers, added that Clark “is a proven leader who understands the essential role of the private sector in helping our country meet its challenges.”