Bruce Josten, a presence for decades on Capitol Hill and K Street as the top lobbyist for the nation’s biggest business trade group, will retire from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at year’s end.
“Bruce is a giant in our profession both in terms of his accomplishments on behalf of the business community and the mentorship he has provided to so many at the Chamber and across Washington,” Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue said in a written statement. “After 42 years of service to the Chamber, and 22 years leading our government affairs and policy divisions, it’s hard to imagine the chamber without him.”
Josten’s departure comes during a raucous election cycle dominated by anti-business rhetoric. Some of the chamber’s top legislative priorities, such as expanding international trade, have come under attack from the political right and left. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and the Democrats' presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, have said they oppose a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that the chamber, along with the Obama administration, supports.
Though the chamber has historically strong ties with the Republican Party, a rift between pro-business and populist factions has intensified debates over such agenda items as a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. With Josten's help, the chamber ultimately won that debate last year.
“One of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington is losing one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington,” said Ivan Adler, a K Street headhunter with the McCormick Group. “It’s certainly going to be one of the most desirous jobs in Washington — and one of the more interesting jobs, depending on who wins the White House.”
The chamber did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment about Josten’s replacement. Josten’s annual compensation, according to 2014 tax forms, was about $2.5 million.
“Bruce Josten is one of the most important people on K Street,” said Jeffrey Birnbaum, a former reporter who covered the lobbying business for years, including at The Washington Post.
“He has an unequaled understanding of both the substance and the politics of legislation,” added Birnbaum, who is now president of BGR Public Relations, whose firm represents the chamber. “His retirement is a gigantic loss to official Washington. The chamber will no doubt find someone to take his job next year after he retires, but no one can really replace him. His leadership and deep understanding of pro-business causes can’t be duplicated.”
The chamber has sparred not only with hard-line conservatives on Capitol Hill but also with outside groups such as Heritage Action for America.
“It will be interesting to see if the Chamber uses this as an opportunity to re-evaluate its policy priorities,” said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler.