SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants the partial shutdown of the U.S. government to end. Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the chamber, issued a number of blunt, stern warnings to Congress and to President Trump. He's led the Chamber of Commerce for 22 years and joins us now. Mr. Donohue, thanks so much for being with us.
THOMAS DONOHUE: I'm very glad to be here.
SIMON: You have had especially strong words on what you see as the need for a comprehensive immigration agreement.
DONOHUE: Well, Scott, that's true, and the reason is we're out of people. We're going to begin to look like Japan. Trucking companies can't find truck drivers. Nursing homes, assisted-living homes and hospitals can find caregivers - a very important thing that most people don't look at. Farmers can't find workers. And when you don't have the workers, Scott, what you do is send the work to where the workers are.
SIMON: We should note the chamber criticized Donald Trump when he was running for president, mostly about trade policies. What do you think of - now that Donald Trump has won the presidency and has been in power for two years, what do you think of his policies on trade and economics generally?
DONOHUE: I very much support and we helped on the issue of the deregulation activities. And, you know, for a lot of your listeners, you know, they're liable to say, oh, see, those folks want to get rid of all regulation - not true at all. We want to keep good regulation. But what we've done in this country in the last 50 or 60 years, we'd have a regulation and we wanted to change it or get a new one, and we'd put it on top of it. And often, the former regulation stays or the conflicting regulation doesn't get eliminated. So here's what we are arguing about. First, on the NAFTA arrangement, which, in my opinion, is the most important and the most significant trade agreement that we have - and to talk about getting rid of it is just ridiculous. And my view - and I spoke about it in the one last thing - to force changes is very important, and you've got to find a way to get people to wake up. And that's what we did with the tariffs. But now - and you know what tariffs are. Tariffs are taxes. But you know who pays them, Scott? Not the Chinese. We pay them.
SIMON: Customers, yes. Mr. Donohue, let me - before we go, I have to ask you, I was especially struck - and I think a lot of people were - in your statement that you're concerned about the climate and freedom of speech in this country.
DONOHUE: I believe that the United States has to always take stock of how they're doing. You know, our history is of free expression. And to start it - if you ever go all the way back and read the things that our forefathers wrote about each other, it was real free speech. And we continue that, although we're challenged because a lot of people now that represent different views, they believe that if you disagree with their position that you shouldn't be able to speak about it. My solution to all that - this country needs more and more speech, more and more people speaking out about issues of high significance to them. And by the way, it really helps if you listen to what other people are saying about issues of significance to them and not try and stop their right to speak about those things. I don't think the problems here in the United States are as near as bad as 10 places you and I could list. But I think we always have to be alert that we're not overshadowing or closing down those fundamental beliefs and behaviors that made this a great country and a great economy.
SIMON: Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, thanks so much for being with us sir.
DONOHUE: Well, thank you, Scott, look forward to doing it again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.