President schedules Feb. 7 overture to business leaders in Chamber address

President Obama will address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce next month, underscoring his dramatic recent efforts to shed his administration’s anti-business image.

Just as President Clinton did after his midterm drubbing in 1994, Obama has launched a high-profile campaign to defuse the electorally dangerous perception that he is out of touch with the job-producing sector of the economy.

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This means patching up relations with the Chamber, with which he was engaged in open hostilities in the run-up to the Democrats’ electoral debacle last year.

The White House on Wednesday announced the president will address the powerful business lobbying group in February.

At the same time, the president has floated the idea of hiring former Commerce Secretary William Daley as his chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel, who is running for mayor of Chicago. Daley, an executive with JPMorgan Chase & Co., is deeply entrenched as a member of the business and Wall Street community, and his move into the Obama White House, if it should come, would send a profound signal that the 44th president means business.

Choosing Daley would go some way toward placating critics who have complained that the business community lacks a voice in the counsels of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Obama’s overtures to business follow his party’s “shellacking” in the 2010 midterm congressional election, during which the Chamber spent some $30 million on advertising in support of Republicans.

This spending prompted repeated White House criticism, but after the results were in, Obama extended an olive branch to his erstwhile foes at the Chamber. At a post-election press conference, he said: “I’ve got to take responsibility in terms of making sure that I make clear to the business community as well as to the country that the most important thing we can do is to boost and encourage our business sector and make sure that they’re hiring.”

Chamber President Tom Donohue seemed receptive to the president’s move, saying a few weeks later that his group would work with the administration on business regulations.

Since then, Obama has sought to thaw relations with business groups and shed the perception that his administration had been cool, if not hostile, toward business. In an early overture, he hosted a working meeting at the Blair House on Dec. 15 with a number of CEOs from large corporations. 

His speech next month will be seen as the latest sign that the administration wants the business community’s favor, or at least neutrality, in the 2012 presidential election.

The speech will focus on the economy and job creation, the White House says. “The president will discuss his commitment to growing the economy and making America more competitive and the importance of working together to create jobs,” said deputy communications director Jen Psaki.

The Chamber said Wednesday that it welcomed the president’s visit. “We look forward to hosting the president next month to discuss jobs and the economy,” said Tom Collamore, senior vice president for communications. “This remains the top priority of the Chamber and the business community, and we’re committed to working together to put Americans back to work.”