Chamber of Commerce backs freshmen House Dems, marking shift

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FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2019 file photo, Rep Abigail Spanberger D-Va., left, and Rep Elaine Luria. D-Va., walk at the Capitol in Washington. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decided to endorse 23 freshmen House Democrats in this falls elections. The move represents a gesture of bipartisanship by the nation's largest business organization, which has long leaned strongly toward Republicans. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decided to endorse 23 freshmen House Democrats in this fall's elections, a bipartisan move by an organization that has long leaned strongly toward Republicans.

The country's largest business group is also endorsing 29 freshmen House Republicans, said a person familiar with the organization's decision who described the actions. Even so, the decision has prompted internal divisions, with some state chamber officials criticizing the national group's decision to back freshmen Democrats in their areas.

The House freshmen the chamber is endorsing include several who face tough reelections, such as Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne of Iowa, Andy Kim of New Jersey, Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, Anthony Brindisi of New York, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.

The chamber has a long track record of using most of its political might to back Republican candidates, especially with money. But the organization has had to recalibrate its tactics as the once-reliably pro-business GOP has taken a more populist, conservative hue on issues like immigration and trade, reflecting the views of President Donald Trump and hard-right tea party adherents whose numbers in Congress have grown.

In earlier indications of the chamber's more bipartisan approach, it has boosted some campaign contributions to Democrats and changed how it assigns publicly released scores about whether lawmakers help business, now factoring in whether they try reaching across party lines.

The moves come as Democrats seem all but certain to continue running the House after November’s elections. Any support for Democrats helps the chamber maintain lines of communication with them, especially as growing numbers of progressive Democrats in Congress makes it harder for business groups to find allies in the party.

Democrats in tough reelection fights can cite the chamber's backing "as a sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” said Liam Donovan, a lobbyist and former GOP political operative.

The chamber is also endorsing freshmen Democratic Reps. Greg Stanton of Arizona; Josh Harder, TJ Cox and Harley Rouda of California; Sharice Davids of Kansas; David Trone of Maryland; Haley Stevens of Michigan; Angie Craig and Dean Phillips of Minnesota; Susie Lee of Nevada; Antonio Delgado of New York; Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas and Ben McAdams of Utah.