The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced Wednesday that Suzanne P. Clark will become president of the organization and Thomas J. Donohue will stay on as CEO of the influential business lobby for another three years.
The announcement comes at a time of change for the organization, which is aligning itself less with the Republican Party and reaching out to freshman Democrats.
“I’m not a spring chicken,” Donohue said in an interview. “Part of this is to achieve two things with the same action. One is to assure our financers, our members and our governments that I am going to be here for a while. The second is to demonstrate that we have continuity of management and that we’re continuing to expand and develop our organization.”
Under Donohue, 80, the Chamber became a political powerhouse and major Republican ally. He took over the group in 1997, rallying opposition to the health-care initiative proposed by President Bill Clinton, an initiative his predecessor had nominally supported. In his first three years, Donohue tripled the chamber’s annual budget to $150 million and dramatically expanded its lobbying and political operations.
But heading into the 2020 campaign, Donohue and Clark have said they believe the organization will support more House Democratic candidates than in previous cycles.
The Chamber is at odds with the Trump administration on some of the issues it cares about most, including trade and immigration, but is also eager to work with the White House on infrastructure and deregulation.
The Chamber’s board is gathering in Washington this week as President Trump threatens to slap new tariffs on Mexico. When Donohue called, he said that he had Mexican business leaders sitting in his conference room, trying to hash out a deal on migration that could help avert the tariffs. “This is not a trade problem,” he said.
“We agree the border needs to be controlled, but we also believe that tariffs aren’t the answer,” Clark said. “We’ve been exploring our legal options about what we would do if they really came to pass.”
In a statement, the Chamber said that Clark was being promoted to president “in recognition of her significant role in the expansion and cultural transformation of the Chamber over the last 5 years.’’
The board of directors plans to conduct a global search for Donohue’s replacement in 2022, which will include internal and external candidates. The group is raising $250 million as part of a capital campaign that will include renovating its headquarters, which is across the street from the White House. It’s also trying to modernize its outreach.
“It’s our job to shore up the Chamber for the next 100 years,” Clark said.
Part of that involves learning how to listen and talk with future business leaders.
“The millennials and the Gen Z have different views about free enterprise,” Clark, 51, said in an interview.
Clark, who has been senior executive vice president, said cultivating pro-business Democrats has become a top priority for the group.
“We are not disentangling with the GOP. That is where the vast support for our priorities lives,” she explained. “It’s also true that we have to get 60 votes to get anything done.”
The Chamber describes itself as the world’s largest business federation, representing the interests of 3 million businesses, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.