WASHINGTON — Relations between President Barack Obama and U.S. corporate leaders have grown tense in recent weeks, with business groups bristling over his sharp rebukes of lenders and multinational companies in particular.
Executives and trade groups that praised Obama’s outreach during his post-election transition period say they have felt less welcome since he took office in January. More troubling, they say, are his populist-tinged, sometimes acid critiques of certain sectors, including large companies that keep some profits overseas to reduce their U.S. tax burden.
On Thursday in New Mexico, Obama chastised the credit card industry for sharply raising interest rates or fees with hard-to-find notice. He said consumers should be protected from “all kinds of harsh penalties and fees that you never knew about.” Some of the dealings by credit card companies, he said, “are not honest.”
He tempered his comments, however, saying Americans must be responsible for the debt they incur.
“Banks are businesses, too,” Obama told a gathering in Albuquerque. “They have a right to insist that timely payments are made.”
The gentler remarks, after weeks of increasingly sharp rhetoric, reflect Obama’s efforts to avoid a full-scale war with business interests. He picks his shots, praising companies that embrace his proposals for health care and other matters, while hammering those that oppose him.
Some business leaders have focused on the harsh words lately, saying the president is being unduly divisive.
“It is traditional class-warfare rhetoric,” said Jade West, a lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. “It’s a little bit frightening.”