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Posted at 3:54 PM ET, 02/ 7/2011

President Obama's on-again, off-again relationship with the Chamber

By Rachel Weiner

President Obama spoke to the Chamber of Commerce Monday, reaching out to a group with which he has struggled to find common ground over his first two years in office.

The move is a classic political play for the ideological middle. President Obama and his political team know that he must win back independent voters to claim a second term next November and playing nice with adversaries is the sort of bipartisan comity that appeals to those centrists.

Of course, Obama's speech to the Chamber brought a swift rebuke from his liberal allies. "Two weeks ago the President promised that he would work to rebuild people's faith in government - meeting with the biggest lobbyists in the country is hardly a step in the right direction," said Erica Payne, the founder of a liberal coalition known as the Agenda Project.

Liberals may not need to worry, however. History suggests that the detente between President Obama and the business community may be short-lived.

Here's a look at a few of the highlights -- and lowlights -- of the relationship between Obama and the Chamber.

January 2009: Relations between President Obama and the Chamber started out fairly warm. The Chamber backed Obama's stimulus plan. "The Chamber is very encouraged by the direction the President-elect is taking with his recovery package," Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Tom Donahue said at the time.

August 2009: The Chamber launched a "multi-million-dollar" national ad campaign attacking Democratic health care reform proposals as "expanded government control of health care." They also went after climate-change legislation, calling for public hearings to explore the science of global warming.

October 2009: The Obama administration began criticizing the Chamber for opposing their major reform proposals, saying the group was "mobilizing against change." Bruce Josten, the Chamber's chief lobbyist went on Fox News to lament the "invectives" and "name-calling" coming from the White House.

December 2009: Obama held a jobs summit at the White House and neglected to invite the Chamber.

January 2010: The Chamber of Commerce ran ads for Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate election -- the most active third-party group helping the Republican candidate who went on to score a historic victory.

March 2010: The Chamber began ramping up its election year efforts targeting Democrats with negative ads.

July 2010: In a letter posted on their website in advance of a jobs summit, the Chamber argued that Obama's economic policies are "job-destroying" and that administration officials "took their eyes off the ball" and "neglected" to focus on job creation. White House adviser Valerie Jarrett responded with a letter defending administration policy.

October 2010: The White House attacked the Chamber of Commerce for alleged ties to foreign donors, a charge the organization labeled a smear campaign.

November 2010: After the midterm elections, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner met with Donohue. Obama told reporters that relations with the business community had not been "managed by me as well as it needed to be." The two agreed to work together on a South Korea free-trade pact.

December 2010: The Chamber invited Obama to speak at an event, but the event was canceled before the Obama administration replied.

January 2011: The Chamber praised Obama for appointing JP Morgan executive Bill Daley as his new chief of staff. "This is a strong appointment. Bill Daley is a man of stature and extraordinary experience in government, business, trade negotiations, and global affairs," they said in a statement. But Donahue was still wary. "This is one tough guy and if business thinks they are going to put their arm around Daley and he's going to do their bidding, they're wrong. He's going to do the president's bidding," he said.

By Rachel Weiner  | February 7, 2011; 3:54 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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