January 5th, 2011
04:32 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) - In yet another sign of President Obama's outreach to the business community as he deals with the new balance of power on Capitol Hill, officials at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce confirmed Wednesday that Obama will address the organization in a major speech on Feb. 7.
"He's going to come here and give a speech on jobs and the economy," Tom Collamore, senior vice president of communications at the Chamber of Commerce told CNN. "That a big priority for the President and it remains the top priority for the Chamber and the business community."
Announcement of the Obama speech – amid speculation that he may tap the business-friendly Bill Daley of JP Morgan Chase to serve as the new White House Chief of Staff – is a clear sign that the White House is ramping up its efforts to work with the business community after a sometimes-testy relationship.
"The President will discuss his commitment to growing the economy and making America more competitive and the importance of working together to create jobs,” White House spokesman Jen Psaki said of the speech.
The Chamber's powerful president Thomas Donohue, who has not been shy about butting heads with this White House on various substantive issues like health reform, is delivering his own pre-buttal of sorts to Obama's State of the Union. Donohue will deliver his annual "State of American Business" speech next Tuesday January 11 to set the table for the business community's agenda at the start of the new Congress.
The detente that will come with Obama's visit to Chamber headquarters next months comes after weeks of negotiations between White House aides and Chamber officials. CNN first reported Nov. 19 that after all of the tense relations Obama was mulling a dramatic peace offering to the Chamber by going into the lion's den for a Dec. 2 speech at a jobs summit the organization was hosting.
For logistical reasons, the Dec. 2 event did not come together. But White House aides and Chamber officials made clear to CNN at the time that both sides were trying to turn down the temperature on the relationship after Donohue spent tens of millions of dollars trying to bring the President's agenda to a screeching halt by helping to elect more pro-business lawmakers in the midterm election.
The bad blood extended to Obama personally slamming the Chamber in the final days of the campaign alleging they might be using illegal foreign money to influence the midterms, a charge the Chamber vehemently denied.
Beyond the political intrigue, the significance of Obama's olive branch to the business community is that it suggests he may be serious about following up on the tax deal he brokered with Republicans in the lame duck session of Congress in December to now find other economic measures that can win bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
White House and Chamber official note that both sides are interested in pushing lawmakers to spend billions of dollars in new infrastructure spending, although that may be difficult to get done at a time of tight budgets.
Both sides are also interesting in following up on Obama's pledge to double U.S. exports within five years by winning final Congressional approval of the South Korean trade deal as well as other pending trade agreements.
Despite their high-profile battles over taxes and health reform, they also previously worked together on pushing through the 2009 stimulus package as well as the auto bailouts.
Psaki previously noted to CNN that "the economic recovery is more important than political battles of the past. There a number of issues that we can see eye to eye on."
Donohue, meanwhile, has pledged cooperation with Obama dating all the way back to Nov. 5, 2008, when he wrote the President-elect a letter pledging to work with him. The Chamber president is known for being a pragmatist and Chamber officials say the sentiment in the 2008 letter still applies after another election is over.
"As America turns the page, the Chamber shares with our fellow citizens the excitement of beginning a new chapter in our national life," Donohue wrote in the 2008 letter. "We are a can-do nation that can overcome all the difficult challenges that face us today. After a long and hard-fought campaign, America is ready to move forward and so is the business community. We are ready to go to work."
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