“Look, the fact that [Donald] Trump and Hillary [Clinton] are both against trade is a challenge,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior political strategist Scott Reed told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a wide-ranging conversation about the 2016 race.
TheDCNF: Your organization I think it would be fair to say, just tore apart GOP nominee Donald Trump’s trade plan, given that it’s rather protectionist. Democratic nominee Secretary Hillary Clinton’s trade policy is also rather protectionist. Both candidates have come out strongly against TPP. With that in mind, what constitutes a victory in November because it seems both candidates are quite committed to run administrations counter to what the Chamber stands for?
Reed: The Chamber is a 104-year-old organization, that has never gotten involved in presidential endorsements and we are not going to this cycle. We are an equal opportunity engager when it comes to presidential candidates that say stupid policies.
We’ve gone after Hillary we’ve gone after Bernie Sanders, we’ve gone after Elizabeth Warren. Our political priority for the cycle is to save the Senate. At the end of the day, no matter who the president is, the Senate has to approve judicial nominations, men and women who are going to take regulatory positions throughout the government. Those are things that are important to the Chamber. We believe that what is really lacking in this entire presidential debate is an honest conversation about the need for economic growth. Growth is the answer for everything, it fixes the entitlement problem coming down the pike, but it’s also to create jobs and lift people up and calm down some of this anger.
TheDCNF: To be clear, then for you saving the Senate, you define that as keeping it in Republican hands?
Reed: Keeping it in the hands of a [Senate] Majority Leader that is pro business, pro-economic growth.
TheDCNF: Would you say that Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, the current majority leader, is pro-business and pro-economic growth?
TheDCNF: What about New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s record on those matters since he would likely be the Democratic Majority Leader if Democrats take the Senate?
TheDCNF: One of the great criticisms of the Republican U.S. House Majority in recent years has been the inability to govern due to internal party divisions. The Chamber has now gotten involved in Republican primaries. Is this a necessary strategy going forward for future election cycles to ensure a governable and united majority?
Reed: Our goal in the House is to expand the middle in both parties. Last cycle we endorsed six Democrats in House races, five of them won. We spent money on behalf of two. This cycle we will endorse four or five Democrats in House races; at the same time, when we see an opportunity like we did out in Kansas, we’re going to study it, focus on it, go in and try and make a difference.
We won a run-off election in Georgia’s Third Congressional District, beating the Club for Growth, Cruz had campaigned there the week before, then we won the [Rep. Tim] Huelskamp race, with the good doctor.
TheDCNF: There’s still many “noisy ones” out there as you called many candidates and members of Congress in 2014 that aren’t exactly aligned with your vision –
Reed: Well you can’t beat someone with no one. First step is candidate recruitment, which started last fall in some of these races, that’s where we are.
TheDCNF: The Freedom Caucus has reportedly aligned themselves with the Club for Growth, what kind of challenges does that represent for your organization, and your goals?
Reed: We don’t agree with the Club for Growth because the Club for Growth endorses candidates that want to shut down the government and that’s a fundamental fault line for us. We, as Main Street businesses, like stability, so that’s a fault line. We don’t always agree with them. I don’t believe we lost an election this cycle or last cycle to Club candidates, but I could be mistaken.
TheDCNF: But now it seems there’s an active alliance between the Freedom Caucus and the Club for Growth, precisely to prevent primary situations like the one against Rep. Huelskamp. Are you concerned by this alignment though between the two groups?
Reed: No, not at all, we believe in peace through strength.
TheDCNF: Do you think the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement will pass in the lame-duck session [between Election Day and inauguration day] of Congress?
Reed: I’m not sure. I think it depends on what happens in the election and how confident the leaders feel in the Senate and the House, I’m just not sure. We’d obviously like for it to pass, but that’s why, elections have ramifications and the stakes of the election could not be higher.
TheDCNF: How optimistic are you about keeping the Senate if you had to put it in percentage terms?
Reed: Look, we saw this Trump storm brewing last winter. We encouraged the Senate candidates to organize and implement their campaigns like they’re running for local sheriff. Meaning, localize the messaging, talk about local issues, take the national issues and bring them home. We’re very pleased with the way Portman, Toomey, and Ayotte, Blunt, are running their campaigns, they’re well-funded. We like where these campaigns are, they’re well-organized, they’re well-funded, and we think we’re in a competitive place. These candidates are running well, they’re running strong, I think we’re going to surprise some folks.
TheDCNF: If Republicans keep the Senate though, you do anticipate possibly losing a seat though?
Reed: Well yeah, we’re on the defense everywhere. The only state where we’re really on the offense is Nevada. I’ll tell you what I look at. I look at the 2018 map where there are 25 Democrats up [for reelection] and only eight Republicans, a reversal [of 2016].
TheDCNF: Looking at 2018 then, isn’t this a confirmation that the Republican Party is resigning itself to triumphs in the Congress rather than the White House since Republicans poll better due to demographics in midterm election years rather than in general election, presidential election years?
Reed: No, not at all.
TheDCNF: So you think the pro-trade agenda applies in all election years?
Reed: Sure. Look, the fact that Trump and Hillary are both against trade is a challenge.
TheDCNF: What are your thoughts on Arizona Sen. John McCain’s odds heading into November?
Reed: He’s running against Ann Kirkpatrick, she’s a House member that we almost beat last cycle. I think she won by 1,400 votes. She saw the handwriting on the wall, we were going to get her this time in Arizona’s First Congressional District and look, McCain’s a national hero, he’s working his tail off, he’s organized. They did very well on early voting which is a good queue for the fall and I think McCain’s going to be in a strong position to hold his seat and return as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
TheDCNF: So in closing, you think this will be a good election year for the Chamber?
Reed: Well, I don’t know, I’m not a procrastinator. We’re working our tails off, the business community is engaged at the highest level it’s ever been, There’s nothing more powerful than an employer telling employees to go out and vote because the stakes of the election are high and the ramifications of the election will affect jobs and economic growth. A lot of these Senate candidates are running on the growth agenda: Portman, Toomey, Ayotte, Rubio, McCain, Blunt, Burr, Joe Heck in Nevada, you go around the country in the battleground states, they’re all running on economic growth; that’s good for the business community, it’s good for Main Street. We’re upbeat and optimistic but we’ve got work to do.
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