Chamber Prez Scoffs At GOP Hardliners’ Efforts To Undercut Its Political Influence

Michael Bonfigli, The Christian Science Monitor.
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October 23, 2015 11:19 a.m.
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Tea Party hardliners are hoping they can use the chaos in the House leadership to insulate themselves from a Chamber of Commerce seeking to dethrone them. But the Chamber is show no signs of backing off, given the far right’s obstruction of many of its key priorities.

Speaking to reporters Friday in Washington at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue said it planned to “double down” in fighting the opposition it faces from hard right groups. He scoffed at reports that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is expected to be elected to speaker next week, had discussed with members of the House Freedom Caucus blocking the influence of the Chamber of Commerce in primary challenges. The Freedom Caucus — the conservative group of members that have rocked the GOP conference — has signaled that a speaker, as a condition of their support, would need to be willing to step in to block outside groups from funding candidates who challenge them.

“I’m glad about that,” Donohue said, pointing to his earlier comments about doubling down in opposing the hard right.

“We are not much worried about any of those discussions,” Donohue said. “We are going to go out and do what we plan to do. We are not a government organization. We don’t have to adhere to what they want to do. We’re going to do what we want to do.”

The rise of the Tea Party has split the Republican conference on issues of importance to the business community, such as the Export-Import Bank, trade deals and raising the debt limit.

“When the Tea Party was first formed and they had four or five principals of sound economics, reasonable taxation, etc. etc. I mean, who could be opposed to that?” Donohue said. “But it has gone far beyond that to the point that it’s lost sight of what the fundamental reality is, and that is to govern in a way to create economic growth and to create jobs.”

Earlier this year, it was reported that the Chamber, a traditional ally of the GOP, was considering funding primary challengers to the conservative Republicans who have roiled its agenda. Those members — some of which who ironically came into Congress challenging moderate incumbents with the help of outside groups — are now using blocking the Chamber’s interference in primaries as a bargaining chip in the current speaker’s race.

Donohue suggested Thursday that the Chamber’s priority would be the 28 open seats in the House, as well as keeping the Senate red. But he didn’t deny that the group was also considering taking out some Tea Party members.

“We will consider any other opportunity that is presented to us on the primary side, most of them, by the way, don’t materialize,” Donohue said. “But they’re there. We’re looking at them.”

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