Jamie Dimon and other business chiefs meet Biden at White House
President Joe Biden met US business leaders including Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Doug McMillon, chief executive of Walmart, as he sought support from titans of corporate America for his $1.9tn stimulus plan.
The gathering in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon was Biden’s first with top business executives since his January 20 inauguration, setting the tone for the relationship between the new administration and American companies.
Biden has embraced economic plans based on hefty government stimulus and infrastructure investment that is largely supported by American business given the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we’re in a position to think big and move big,” Biden said as the meeting began.
However, business executives have argued that further spending needed to be tailored to the medical response and sectors most affected by the crisis, which could lead to disagreement over the size and details of the rescue plan.
Other aspects of Biden’s agenda, including higher taxation, an increased minimum wage and support for unionisation, are also being watched warily by companies as they wrestle with the new administration’s policies.
According to one person briefed on the meeting, the discussion was serious and detailed, reflecting the return of “adults in the room” in the White House, and covered infrastructure, immigration, education, skills, healthcare and labour.
However, the conversation did not involve endorsements of any policies or numbers.
From the Biden administration, the meeting included Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, and Kamala Harris, the vice-president.
Tom Donohue, chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce, Sonia Syngal, chief executive of Gap, and Marvin Ellison, chief of the home improvement retailer Lowe’s, also attended.
Walmart’s McMillon chairs the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group representing the top US blue-chip companies in Washington.
After meeting Biden, Dimon said the discussion was “constructive and detailed” and “covered a lot of ground”. He added: “I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these serious issues today, and look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to build an economy that is stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive.”
Dimon has long been involved in policy debates in Washington, and is a board member and former chairman of the Business Roundtable. He has donated to both Democrats and Republicans in the past, and was at times considered a contender for a top job in the Biden administration.
“My heart is Democratic but my brain is kind of Republican,” Dimon told CNBC in 2019. His presence at the meeting as the only representative of the financial services sector could set him up to be a leading conduit for Wall Street, in a similar role to that performed by Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of Blackstone, in the Trump White House.
During the Trump administration, business largely embraced a big round of tax cuts and deregulation but balked at the 45th president’s trade policies. Many executives also rejected his erratic policymaking style and leadership and condemned his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which culminated in the deadly assault on the US Capitol on January 6.
Biden is trying to rally business support for his economic stimulus after struggling to secure significant Republican backing, forcing him to rely solely on members of the Democratic party to clinch the passage of the package in a narrowly divided Congress.
However, White House officials have pointed to polls showing that their fiscal plan — which includes direct payments worth $1,400 to Americans earning up to $75,000 per year — is overwhelmingly popular among voters.
Hours after Donohue attended the Oval Office meeting, the Chamber announced that he would hand over the leadership of Washington’s biggest business lobby in March to its president, Suzanne Clark, ending a 24-year run as chief executive.
Long seen as a more conservative group than the Business Roundtable, the Chamber has endorsed more Democrats in recent years and called for more bipartisanship to break the gridlock on issues from immigration to infrastructure spending.
James Politi in Washington and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York