Obama reaches out to business community in meeting with 20 CEOs
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 5:11 PM
The Republicans in Congress aren't the only people the White House is trying to make peace with. President Obama met Wednesday with a group of 20 chief executives, including the heads of American Express, Google and UBS, part of a persistent but at times unsuccessful effort to win the business community's trust.
The session, which lasted all morning and into the afternoon, was behind closed doors at Blair House, across the street from the White House.
After the meeting, several chief executives said their conversation with the president was constructive and open as they discussed education, trade, taxes and jobs. But the executives and Obama remained vague about specific outcomes they expected from the meeting.
"I think at the end of the day the idea is how can business and the White House work hand-in-hand together to create more growth in this country," said Robert Wolf, chief executive of UBS Group Americas.
"I feel very confident we made some good progress," Obama said in brief remarks after the meeting.
The meeting follows a midterm election in which Republicans won control of the House and made gains in the Senate with the heavy financial assistance of business interests opposed to Obama's agenda. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $30 million in elections around the country, nearly all in support of GOP candidates.
Relations between the two sides have at times been tense. Some executives say that Obama's agenda - including the financial and health care overhauls - has caused uncertainty, making them reluctant to hire new workers and that the president unfairly bashes big business.
The administration chafes at such criticisms, as U.S. companies recorded their largest-ever profits from July to September this year.
"I hope to elicit ideas from these business leaders that will help us not only climb out of recession but seize the promise of this moment," Obama told reporters in remarks before the meeting. Among the agenda items were trade, deficit reduction and U.S. competitiveness.
Some executives, however, have grown skeptical of these repeated overtures by the White House, which has opted to reach out directly to chief executives rather than work through trade groups such as the chamber.
Michael Morris, chief executive of American Electric Power, attended an event at the White House with other chief executives in February and said the president listened carefully - but then didn't act. Morris said businesses are still confused about what new regulations mean for their industries.
"We're hoping. We're hoping," said Morris, who was invited to the summit Wednesday but declined to attend. "So we're ready to restart and see. But I think for many of us it will be a short window, and if there's very little reaction or very little change, then I think you sit back and say, 'Same place, just a bit of a different tone.' "