Updated 4:42 p.m. ET, 1/8/2014
Washington (CNN) – The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce vowed Wednesday that 2014 will be the year his organization pulls "out all of the stops" to pass immigration reform, pledging that the Chamber will turn the 2014 midterm elections "into a motivation for change."
"We're determined to make 2014 the year that immigration reform is finally enacted," Donohue said at his 2014 State of American Business address. "The Chamber will pull out all the stops – through grassroots lobbying, communications, politics and partnerships with unions, faith organization, law enforcement and other – to get it done."
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Donohue refuted the idea that immigration reform would not pass in 2014, a midterm election year when very little, if anything, gets done on Capitol Hill.
"We hope to turn that assumption on its ear," he said. "It's based on a simple theory: If you can't make them see the light, then at least make them feel some heat."
Immigration reform, despite passing the Senate in June and being named one of President Barack Obama's top priorities for his second term, has seen very little movement in the House of Representatives.
Late last year, House Speaker Boehner insisted that while immigration reform was "absolutely not" dead, he had "no intention" of negotiating with the Democratic-led Senate over its comprehensive immigration proposal.
Many Republicans in Congress who oppose the Senate plan – which includes an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States – have said they want to deal with immigration reform through a number of smaller bills, not one larger piece of legislation. Boehner has said he backs that approach.
Some Republicans vigorously oppose the efforts by such groups as the Chamber pushing the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate. They argue it would double the number of guest workers and legalize 11 million illegal immigrants adding more to the nation’s work force. Some Republicans also believe this type of reform will drive down wages and lead to more unemployment.
“The President says people are worried ‘the system is rigged’ and yet it is the President who has teamed up with a small cadre of CEOs to double the flow of immigrant workers when these exact same companies are laying off American workers in drove,” Sen. Jeff Sessions Republican on the Judiciary Committee has previously said.
Donohue's remarks highlight how the Chamber of Commerce plans to be an aggressive player in the 2014 midterm elections and how immigration reform is set to be at the center of those plans.
A source with knowledge of the Chamber's election plans told CNN that the group is set to spend "at least $50 million" in the 2014 midterms. The group has already spent money in four midterms races, according to the source: defending House Republican Mike Simpson of Idaho, supporting Shelly Moore Capito in West Virginia's Senate race, backing Evan Jenkins, a Democrat-turned-Republican challenging Democrat Nick Rahall in West Virginia, and supporting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, who is facing a tea party challenger.
The source said the group will "spend early to help set the terms of the debate." In his speech, Donohue said the group will be active in at least half a dozen races and "will support candidates who want to work within the legislative process to solve the nation's problems."
The Chamber, which has long been reliably Republican, played a major role in a 2013 special election in Alabama, helping Republican Bradley Byrne, a former state senator, defeat businessman Dean Young, a tea party backed candidate.
After the speech, at a press conference with reporters, Donohue said "thank God" that Bryne won in Alabama.
Donohue said that the Chamber was primarily against candidates who plan to come to Washington and "burn down the town," not specifically against tea party backed lawmakers.
One reason the Chamber has seemed to step up its election plans is because of the 16 day government shutdown that gripped Washington in 2013 and highlighted the dysfunction on Capitol Hill. The Chamber was vocally against the shutdown and in his Wednesday speech, Donohue said the group would look to "expand a pro-business majority in the House" in 2014, a nod to the fact the Chamber worried about their influence on House Republicans after the shutdown.
As to whether the Chamber will challenge lawmakers that they feel had gone against business interests, Donohue was non-committal, but with a laugh, he said it "sounds like a good idea."