By Vicki Needham - 06/11/14 12:04 PM EDT
The head of the nation's largest business group on Wednesday said he doesn’t view House Majority Leader’s Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) shocking primary loss as a blow to the business community.
Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted his group wasn’t involved in the Cantor primary, and said the Chamber has yet to lose in any of the races where it has spent money this year.
He said the focus in Congress must remain on the major issues facing the nation here and abroad from immigration to Social Security.
"We have serious questions of what we are going to do about jobs and growth and, yes, immigration," he said.
"So the bottom line here is I feel badly for Eric Cantor, because he’s a great servant to the American people."
He called Cantor "a very serious person who was working on some challenging and controversial issues" during his time in House leadership.
"I think he provided a lot of help and balance and we'll miss him."
But Donohue pushed back against the notion that the Tea Party defeated Cantor.
“The Tea Party had nothing to do with this,” he said.
"They weren’t in, they didn’t put any money in, they didn’t have any people there. It was sort of an attractive professor in a very, very conservative district in Virginia. And everybody was surprised."
Despite Cantor's defeat, Donohue, whose group has strongly backed immigration reform, said he doesn’t think the loss is the death knell for the issue.
“I don't believe immigration is dead,” he said.
“I think we might have some change in the timing, but there are enough people in the Congress — yesterday, anyway — who would have easily voted for an immigration bill because we need an immigration bill.”
Instead he suggested taking a broader look at what is happening in primaries nationwide.
"I look at what is happening across the whole system and I think people across this country are looking for folks that want to make something happen, that want to bring this country to a point where we create more jobs, where we drive economic growth and deal with the problems we have," he said.
While Donohue said he didn't see Cantor's defeat coming, it is no reason to give up the effort to get candidates elected who back the Chamber's agenda.
"We’re not going to fold up our tent and go home and not participate in the Boy Scout meeting because of one race," he said.
Last fall, business groups vowed to ramp up their involvement in the primaries in an effort to elect candidates who support their business initiatives, expressing frustration with more conservative lawmakers who have disrupted their legislative priorities.
While a growing group of conservative House Republicans are positioning themselves for a leadership job, Donohue reminded that with a title comes greater responsibility.
"You know, what I have found over a long, long period of time, is that whoever eventually ends up in leadership positions has to deal with the responsibility of that position,” he said.
“When you are the outside person trying to work your way in, you can say all kinds of things. When you are the person with a responsibility, when the American people look to you to make decisions that affect them and their children, our economy and our security, leadership all over the place does a better job."
Even with Cantor's defeat he doesn't think Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is in jeopardy of losing his job.
"I’d just say his job’s not in trouble, if that’s what he wants to do," he said.
But as that jockeying continues, Rep. Jeb Hensarling's (R-Texas) name has moved to the fore for a top slot.
The House Financial Services Committee chairman is strongly opposed, for one, to reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, a top priority for the Chamber this year.
Donohue said he would "have to think about" Hensarling taking a more upfront role in the party but said it wasn't up to the Chamber to steer those decisions.
"We have never, ever allow the Chamber to get into the business of whom they choose as leader," he said.
"What we want to do is get the best people elected that we can, so that whatever comes up to a vote, whatever comes up for a decision, or whoever is voting for the leadership, we have the best people there to get the best possible results."