Chamber President Tom Donohue's half-joking remark last week—that if congressional Republicans end up blocking immigration legislation this year, the party should sit out the 2016 presidential election—was roundly mocked.
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"Maybe Donohue should do a little thinking of his own about who the voters are—and more importantly, about what immigration reforms are right for the country, not just special interests," wrote the Heritage Foundation's Genevieve Wood.
In his interview with CNBC.com, Reed pushed back against the criticism, arguing that Donohue's comments had set the tone for a joint letter, issued two days later by an array of conservatives, including the Tea Party Express, supporting immigration reform this year.
Reed said that despite its endorsements in the GOP primaries, and portrayals in the media, his organization is not at war with the tea party. Instead, he said, it is trying to slough out a "small number" of political opportunists it claims have stolen the tea party mantle.
"I don't know how much impact we will have on the media narrative, but the tea party is a movement made up of men and women that believe in freedom [and] the Constitution. ... It sounds like your local chamber of commerce," said Reed.
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Much of Reed's work of late has been in convincing media types of the chamber's renewed relevance. He traces a string of successes starting last fall, with its support of Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne's special election victory in the House.
"Tonight's results are just a step in the ultimate direction on hopefully growing the pro-business majority in the House and making some big gains in the Senate," Reed said late Tuesday. "The thing that is unique about the chamber is the day after the election, it is still in business. ... Unlike a lot of groups, we have the lights on the next morning."