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Democratic U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens picks up U.S. Chamber endorsement

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Freshman U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, a Democrat in a Metro Detroit swing district, picked up a major endorsement for her reelection Wednesday from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has historically backed pro-business Republican candidates. 

Stevens, 37, of Rochester Hills was among 23 House Democrats endorsed this week by the chamber, the nation's largest business organization. The U.S. Chamber credited Stevens for her work as part of a bipartisan coalition pushing for the North American Free Trade Agreement successor known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills), left, and GOP challenger Eric Esshaki, a lawyer from Birmingham. The winner of the November election will represent Michigan's 11th district.

"Rep. Haley Stevens’ leadership as a part of this effort helps workers and manufacturers have full access to export markets and a restored sense of certainty for years to come," Kenneth Johnson, executive director of congressional and public affairs at the Chamber, said in a statement.

Last month, the U.S. Chamber in conjunction with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce gave Stevens its “Spirit of Enterprise” award, which is given to members of Congress based on their bipartisan leadership and support for "pro-growth" policies.

Stevens has prioritized manufacturing jobs and trade issues in her first term, as well as infrastructure, health care and science, math and technology opportunities for girls.

The Michigan Chamber in 2018 endorsed GOP businesswoman Lena Epstein, when the seat was open due to the retirement of Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham.

Stevens defeated Epstein and flipped the seat for the Democrats in Michigan's 11th District, which includes parts of Oakland and Wayne counties. 

The Michigan Chamber is aware of the national chamber's decision to endorse Stevens but does not intend to back either candidate in the 11th District race this fall, said Rich Studley, the group's president and CEO. 

"The Michigan Chamber is a member of the U.S. Chamber, and we understand the endorsement that the U.S. Chamber made, and we are very comfortable with that," Studley said. 

"Rep. Stevens has been — especially for a first-termer — I think true to her word about being more independent and being thoughtful and open to input from the business community." 

The Michigan Chamber has a "cordial" relationship with Stevens and her staff, he added. 

"We don't have anything negative or critical to say about the U.S. Chamber's decision. In fact, we understand it, and we're comfortable with it," Studley said. 

"We're not planning on making an endorsement in that race. We're very member driven when it comes these decisions." 

Stevens tweeted her thanks Wednesday to the U.S. Chamber: "I am thrilled to work alongside you to rebuild our economy and expand economic opportunities for Michigan workers and small businesses."

In a statement, she added, "As we rebuild our economy, I look forward to working with the U.S. Chamber to pass policies that help Michigan small businesses get back on their feet from this unprecedented economic crisis.”

This fall, she faces Republican Eric Esshaki, a Birmingham lawyer, who dismissed the endorsement as "the swamp lobbyists swimming with Haley Stevens."

"Congresswoman Stevens being endorsed by another set of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., is not news," Esshaki said in a statement. 

"These lobbyists care about backroom deals with Nancy Pelosi," he said, referring to the Democratic House speaker from California.

"Every lobbyist knows Stevens blindly follows the Nancy Pelosi agenda. Haley Stevens is bad for jobs, bad for working families and bad for health care."

Democrats are expected to maintain control of the U.S. House in this fall's election. 

Democrats in competitive re-election 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 U.S. Chamber has historically leaned toward Republicans for office, investing $2 million so far in the 2020 cycle in outside spending to boost GOP candidates. In 2016 and 2018, it put $40 million in outside money toward Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. 

This election cycle, the money that the chamber’s political action committee has donated directly to candidate campaigns has been split between Democrats and Republicans, compared with 2018 when about 2-in-3 dollars it gave to House candidates went to Republicans.

The Associated Press contributed 

mburke@detroitnews.com