President Obama has repeatedly embraced three titans of American commerce, General Electric, Boeing and JPMorgan Chase, showering their chief executives with praise and adopting policies that benefit the companies.
His economic stimulus package awarded $200 million in contracts to GE, according to the company, and he has traveled the world selling Boeing airplanes — even joking that he should receive a gold watch for how many he has sold. Obama rejected calls from some economists to break up the biggest banks after the financial crisis, leaving JPMorgan, the biggest of them all, whole.
Yet these companies — from the C-suite to the rank and file — have shown little enthusiasm for the president.
Top executives have repeatedly criticized his rhetoric and his policies or have declined to support some of his most significant proposals. Employees, in a contrast to 2008, have scaled back financial support for Obama’s campaign.
The president’s relationship with GE, Boeing and JPMorgan offers a window into his sometimes-strained dealings with corporate America. He has for 31/2 years tried to nurture better connections to business, inviting top executives into his inner circle, promoting manufacturing and exports, and pumping money into a weak economy.
But he hasn’t always received a positive reception, with executives complaining about his tone and his policies. That may create difficulties for Obama as he runs for reelection against Republican Mitt Romney, who says business experience is one of his chief credentials.
The president’s dwindling support among some in business is evidenced in campaign giving.
Although employees of GE, Boeing and JPMorgan backed Obama and other Democratic candidates by wide margins in 2008, that backing has declined this year. GE and JPMorgan employees have switched their allegiance to Romney and his fellow Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while Boeing employees continue to support the president, albeit by a smaller advantage.
William Daley, who was serving as a senior JPMorgan executive and was a Boeing director when Obama tapped him in 2011 to be his chief of staff, said business leaders have generally not understood that the president’s job is to represent American workers, not just business interests.
“Many people in business have misjudged the president’s intentions,” Daley said. “They don’t understand the difficulties the American people are having.”
He added: “A lot of people in the business community have historically been and are Republicans. That’s a fact of life.”
According to their public statements and people close to them, the chief executives of JPMorgan, GE and Boeing bear no ill will toward the White House and have had plenty of access to administration officials to advocate their views on business policy.
What has bothered them has been the White House’s rhetoric, which they perceive as sometimes unfairly critical of business, and its support of regulations that they consider burdensome.
JPMorgan head Jamie Dimon, a longtime Democrat, has spent millions of his company’s money lobbying against several provisions of the Dodd-Frank overhaul of financial regulation, which is one of Obama’s signature domestic achievements. He also has expressed exasperation with Democratic rhetoric.
“I’ve gotten disturbed at some of the Democrats’ anti-business behavior, the attacks on work ethic and successful people,” Dimon said in May on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Boeing chief executive W. James McNerney Jr. was outraged by efforts by the National Labor Relations Board to try to stop Boeing from creating a non-union plant in South Carolina. Although the NLRB was not controlled by Obama, he appointed the board official who filed the case.
As chairman of the Business Roundtable, a lobby that has often been critical of Obama, McNerney has expressed concerns in conference calls and interviews about the administration’s approach to medical and environmental regulation.
For instance, he has said, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, which fall under Obama’s purview, often have had an attitude of “guilty until proven innocent” in their oversight of companies.
A person close to the Boeing chief said that he considered some of the White House’s rhetoric early on as unfairly critical of corporate America but that it has improved.
Still, in a recent interview with Bloomberg Television, McNerney said the president needs to show more “sensitivity” to the needs of business. “I think there could be more of it. There is some and they’re trying to reach out, but no, I’d like to see more.”