Donald Trump campaigned as an outsider who vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but the president-elect’s transition team is packed with veterans of the GOP establishment, as well as with lobbyists for the fossil fuel, chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries.
As Trump and his aides vet nominees for his Cabinet and lay out a first 100-day agenda, they are leaning heavily on the sort of DC insiders that the billionaire railed against on the campaign trail — people who cut their teeth working for Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and former nominee Mitt Romney, as well as on the influence peddlers Trump accuses of ‘rigging’ the system against ordinary Americans.
One Republican lobbyist told POLITICO that the president-elect has no choice but to turn to GOP veterans with government experience to launch a new administration.
“Who else are you going to go to?” the lobbyist said. “Unless you get some used car salesman from Dubuque, Iowa, you go to policy people.”
To be sure, members of the transition team are not guaranteed jobs in the Trump administration — for now, they’ve been enlisted simply to assemble policy papers, vet potential nominees and develop road maps for governing. But their involvement makes it more difficult for the president-elect to portray himself as a political outsider — a development that at least some regard as positive.
“The fact that Donald Trump is reaching into the big pool of his party for some of the most highly qualified candidates is a good thing,” said one former Bush administration official. “It would be a huge mistake to not draw on that talent. I understand the campaign rhetoric. But if he’s not drawing from the Republican Party — and he’s obviously not drawing from the Democratic Party — where would he draw from?”
But some in the original band of insurgents are resentful. “The Bush crew is definitely trying to pretend that Trump’s win is not a direct repudiation of their failed administration,” said one early supporter. “I’m surprised by the hypocrisy of the whole thing.”
There’s also Ado Machida, a top domestic policy aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney; David Bernhardt, Interior Department solicitor, and James F. Manning, a senior Education official, both for the younger Bush; and Ken Blackwell, undersecretary at Housing and Urban Development, and David Malpass, deputy assistant secretary of state, both for the elder Bush.
Former Bush officials are expected to find a place in Trump’s Cabinet too. Pamela Patenaude, a potential pick to lead Housing and Urban Development, was an assistant HUD secretary under the younger Bush; and Van Hipp Jr., a former deputy assistant Army secretary for the elder Bush, is seen as a leading candidate to be Army secretary.
William Evers, a possible pick for Education Secretary, worked at the younger Bush’s Education Department; Victoria Lipnic, a candidate for Labor Secretary, worked at his Labor Department; and Robert Grady, who served the elder Bush, is seen as a candidate to lead Interior, Energy, EPA or the Office of Management and Budget.
Trump’s transition team is also flush with lobbyists, raising questions about the president-elect’s promises to limit the influence of lobbyists in government.
During an October speech in Wisconsin, Trump vowed to “make our government honest once again.” He pledged to ask Congress to ban executive branch officials from lobbying the government for five years after they return to the private sector and to issue a similar five-year ban on former lawmakers and their staffs. He also proposed a lifetime ban on senior executive branch officials lobbying for foreign governments. And he said he would “close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisers when we all know they are lobbyists.”
But his transition team includes lobbyists who represent powerful corporate interests, according to an organization chart obtained by POLITICO and lobby disclosure filings:
Cindy Hayden of tobacco giant, Altria, is in charge of Trump’s Homeland Security team.
J. Steven Hart, chairman of Williams & Jensen, is in charge of the Labor team. His clients include Visa, the American Council of Life Insurers, Anthem, Cheniere Energy, Coca-Cola, General Electric, PhRMA and United Airlines.
Michael McKenna of MWR Strategies, who is working on the Energy Department team, lobbies for Engie (formerly GDF Suez), Southern Company and Dow Chemical.
David Bernhardt of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck who leads the Interior Department team, lobbies for the Westlands Water District in central California and used to represent Freeport LNG and Rosemont Copper.
Michael Torrey, who has the Agriculture Department portfolio, has his own firm representing the American Beverage Association and the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau.
Mike Catanzaro of CGCN Group, lobbies for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a refining group, as well as Hess, Encana, Noble Energy and Devon Energy. Catanzaro is working on energy independence, along with Mike Ference, a lobbyist at the firm S-3 Group, representing Halliburton, Koch Industries and Marathon Oil.
Rolf Lundberg, who’s tasked with trade reform, worked at the Chamber of Commerce until 2013 and spun off his own lobbying firm representing Choice Hotels and the International Franchise Association.
Jim Carter, who oversees tax reform, is an in-house lobbyist for manufacturing company Emerson.
Transportation and infrastructure is being led by Martin Whitmer, the founder partner of lobbying firm Whitmer & Worrall who represents the American Association of Railroads, the National Asphalt Pavement Association and the Utilities Technology Council.
It is not known whether Trump will allow former lobbyists to serve in his administration — instead of simply limiting what they do after leaving government. Unlike Trump, Hillary Clinton’s transition team banned lobbyists altogether and made staff sign a code of ethics requiring transition officials to recuse themselves from working on any issue on which they have lobbied in the past year.
A person close to Trump’s transition told POLITICO that he has not heard any discussion about limiting the role of lobbyists in Trump’s administration.
“When you lock lobbyists out, you’re really handcuffing yourself,” the person said. “It looks good on paper and it sounds good … But you’re cheating yourself and really limiting the talent pool.”
Indeed, even Obama had trouble keeping lobbyists out of government. The president issued several waivers permitting former lobbyists to work in his administration. Some Democrats privately acknowledge such limits are important symbolically, but are difficult to enforce.
“It is a big error to sweep with a broad brush when it comes to lobbyists,” said another former Bush administration official, “because some of the most seasoned and capable people able to responsibly pull the levers of government are among the lobbying ranks. To deprive yourself from that skill set is a mistake.”
Trump’s decision to rely on veterans of all stripes comes as a relief for many in the establishment.
“Look I don’t want his administration filled with Breitbart and Ann Coulter — those kind of folks,” said Peter Wehner, who served in the last three GOP administrations and who has been an outspoken Trump critic. “I hope for the sake of the country that he gets competent people in place who know how to run the government because he has no earthly idea what to do. I’m sure he’s in the process of figuring out that the presidency is not a reality television show.”
A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump supporters, say hello to your first of many broken campaign promises.