WASHINGTON -- Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Monday that he sees Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as a tennis player who "rushes the net all the time," but hasn't yet proven that he can win.
Speaking to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Donohue added that he doesn't personally know Cruz, the insurgent Texas Republican who led the GOP-engineered government shutdown earlier this month. But, he continued, “I sort of think about him as a tennis player. If you’re going to rush the net all the time, you better have a lot of motion to the left and right. He hasn’t proved that to me yet.”
When a reporter noted that some business groups wish Cruz would "sit down and shut up," Donohue replied, “Well, that might be one thing we could work on.”
While Donohue said he believes Cruz "still has a lot of relationships to make" in Washington -- a thinly veiled swipe at the senator -- he also said the Chamber "is going to try and work with him wherever we can."
The bottom line, Donohue said, is that Cruz currently "doesn't have the votes to do what he wants to do."
"So then, what does history show?" he said. "After a while he will start talking to people about how to get done what he wants to get done, instead of telling everybody how he’s going to get it done.”
But getting Cruz to play the Beltway influence game will likely get harder, not easier, as the senator eyes a potential 2016 presidential run. Since arriving in Washington earlier this year, Cruz has made no secret of his disdain for what he sees as the D.C. political establishment. As the leader of the nation's largest business lobby, Donohue is certainly part of that establishment. The group specializes in building coalitions of diverse interest groups in order to advance business-friendly policies. It is currently working with its frequent rival, the AFL-CIO, on immigration reform.
The recent debt ceiling showdown, meanwhile, has only served to deepen the divide between the Chamber's traditional allies in Congress: moderate, pro-business Republicans, and the tea party conservatives personified by Cruz.
How this divide will play out in the 2014 elections could rest largely on whether business groups like the Chamber decide to step in and encourage moderate Republicans to challenge hardliners in the House. There are signs that this is already underway in some districts, but the Chamber will likely need to do much more in coming months to balance the influence that conservative groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth have already established in GOP primary campaigns.
Donohue said the Chamber plans to focus on protecting the House GOP majority, and he stressed that any conflict between Republican-friendly influence groups is less about overall goals than it is about how best to achieve them.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to bring [the pro-business and tea party groups] to a consensus," Donohue said, "not on the issues -- people have a lot of agreement on the issues -- but on the best way to move forward.”