Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans aggressive efforts to back “pro-business” candidates, some of whom will face Tea Party opponents in Republican primary elections this year, Tom Donohue, the group’s president, said today.
The U.S. Chamber, the nation’s largest business-lobbying group and a traditional supporter of Republicans, has in recent years squared off against lawmakers aligned with the Tea Party on issues including trade, U.S. Export-Import Bank reauthorization and the federal budget.
“In 2014, the chamber will work to protect and expand a pro-business majority in the House and advance our position and our influence in the Senate,” Donohue said in his annual State of American Business speech in Washington. “The business community understands what’s at stake.”
“We’re determined to make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted,” he said. “The chamber will pull out all of the stops — through grassroots lobbying, communications, politics, and partnerships with our friends in unions and faith-based organizations and law enforcement groups and others — to get this job done.”
Donohue also vowed to back trade-promotion authority, sought by President Barack Obama’s administration to smooth passage of agreements, and he said his group would work to fix what it deems to be flaws in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
He acknowledged that the chamber won’t be able “to get rid of” PPACA, and instead pledged to pursue efforts such as repealing or altering the measure’s mandate for businesses to provide insurance.
Donohue cited as a model his group’s successful backing in November of a candidate for an open Alabama congressional seat over a self-described Tea Party activist. Donohue said the organization will support candidates who favor trade, energy development and immigration reform.
In an interview with Bloomberg Television today, Donohue said the chamber’s disagreement isn’t with the Tea Party as it was “originally established” to promote small government. Rather, he said, it’s with politicians who have “hitched their trailer to the Tea Party wagon.” Those lawmakers, whom he declined to name, want to shut down the government and not pay U.S. debt, he said on BTV’s “Market Makers” with Stephanie Ruhle and Erik Schatzker.
One early show of the intra-Republican battle could be in Kentucky, where the chamber is backing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while such groups as the Senate Conservatives Fund — which helped elect Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2012 — prefer businessman and first-time candidate Matt Bevin.
Tea Party response
Donohue’s comments drew a frustrated response from some Tea Party groups which the chamber could find itself pitted against in coming elections — signaling the growing divide on the political right.
The chamber’s “disconnect” with other Republican groups is its “pro-big-business agenda,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America, a Washington nonprofit that advocates for smaller government and is affiliated with the Heritage Foundation think tank led by former South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint.
“If they just wanted to let the private sector thrive, the chamber would have no better friends than conservatives and Tea Party folks,” he said. “If they’re instead content to see business as usual in Washington, that’s where they will run into a ton of resistance not only from conservatives but also independents.”