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Published on February 12, 2021 6:30 AM

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he U.S. Chamber of Commerce insists it’s taking the same approach to the Biden administration that it did with the Trump administration: working with them on the issues of agreement and fighting on areas where they don’t. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo
Washington's most powerful trade group is having a political identity crisis.

Over the past month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has taken a series of steps that have enraged its traditional Republican allies. It applauded much of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion plan to Covid relief bill; cheered Biden's decision to rejoin the Paris climate agreement; backed the former leader of the liberal Center of American Progress, Neera Tanden, for Office of Management and Budget director; and expressed openness to raising the minimum wage, though not to $15 an hour.

That's left the Chamber, a K Street institution known for its bruising battles with past Democratic administrations, occupying an increasingly lonely political center, caught between angry Republicans who feel the trade group has abandoned them and Democrats who are pursuing policies anathema to many of their members.

Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who publicly bashed the Chamber's endorsement of Tanden, said in an interview that the Chamber "has forgotten Main Street America" and would have to decide what it wanted to be in Biden's Washington.

"Do they really care about the bottom line of companies and small businesses and growth, or do they care more about social justice?" Smith asked.

Smith's frustration with the Chamber is shared by many Republicans who say the group is now unrecognizable to them.

After the Chamber backed nearly two dozen freshman House Democrats for reelection last year, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News he didn't want the Chamber's endorsement "because they have sold out."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told POLITICO last year that he thought the Chamber was "so confused about what they're about that they probably don't make much difference."

Josh Holmes, McConnell's former chief of staff and a close ally, called some of the Chamber's recent positions "totally unmoored to any sort of advocacy for business whatsoever."