The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been a sharp critic of Donald Trump’s economic policies, plans to “turn up the heat” to overhaul the country’s immigration laws if he is elected president, a top official said Friday.
Rob Engstrom, senior vice president and national political director for the business lobby, said in an interview for C-SPAN's “Newsmakers” that the Chamber remains optimistic that bipartisan agreement can be forged on key immigration policy issues, despite Trump’s inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“I would argue on a piecemeal basis there is opportunity in the next Congress, in the next two years, to be able to get substantive things done on immigration reform,” said Engstrom in an interview set to air Sunday. “In my private conversations with members of both political parties, on the Senate side and also on the House side, there is agreement on some tenets.”
If Trump is elected to the White House, “we’re going to continue to turn up the heat,” he added. “We are going to continue to be focused. There are bipartisan majorities in the Senate and in the House that believe that that ought to be done. And we’re going to start where we agree, then we’re going to ensure that immigration reform is completed.”
The group's plans underscore how the deep split among conservatives over Trump’s candidacy would have major policy reverberations if he is elected.
The Chamber, which is typically closely aligned with the Republican presidential nominee, would be at odds with a President Trump over not just immigration reform, but free trade.
Both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are currently opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact negotiated by the Obama administration. Clinton generally favors free trade and originally backed TPP, but now says she wants to see more protections in the deal for American workers. Trump has gone further, making protectionist language a centerpiece of his bid and arguing that international trade deals hurt American workers.
Thomas J. Donohue, the Chamber's chief executive, has said the real estate mogul has “very little idea about what trade really is.” And the Chamber has warned that Trump’s policies would lead to a weaker economy.
Nevertheless, Engstrom said he is optimistic that the next president will ultimately support trade agreements.
“The Chamber will not walk away from our vigorous belief in the facts, and the facts are that trade equals jobs in this country,” he said. “Mr. Trump is fundamentally wrong. Secretary Clinton is fundamentally wrong.”
“We believe we will have a constructive discussion once the dust settles in this election,” he added.
But in the meantime, anti-trade rhetoric has spilled over into congressional races. And some of the Chamber’s staunchest allies have come out against TPP, including Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania — two incumbents getting major financial backing from the group.
“Look, the definition of being pro-business means different things in different places,” Engstrom said. “We respect the local economies and we know that there have been [impacts] in the local economies in both of those states.”
“I think what Sen. Toomey and Sen. Portman are saying is we have to find out what’s in it before we pass it, and I think that’s the U.S. Chamber’s position, and I think it’s a fundamentally responsible position,” he added.
So far, the business lobby has spent $25 million on 2016 races, largely on efforts supporting GOP Senate candidates. In the final stretch of the campaign, the Chamber plans to continue those campaigns and make new investments in House races.
Engstrom indicated that the Republican candidates likely to see a boost from the group include Rep. Bob Dold of Illinois, Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida.