What Donald Trump’s Election Means For Advocacy
Three days after Donald Trump’s unexpected election victory upended all projections, Rich Gold was still reeling. The tide-turning shocker had left him, admittedly, feeling adrift.
“I’m Brody in the closing scene of ‘Jaws,’ clinging to the wreckage, and Hooper comes to the surface and asks, ‘Quint?’ and Brody just says, ‘No.’
“My Quint just got eaten, and I’m clinging to the wreckage,” Gold said.
But finding opportunity in upheaval is “what I do for a living,” he adds. “We’re already policy-gaming – we had a different outcome, so we’ve got a different set of strategies,” says the leader of 90-person Holland & Knight’s Public Policy & Regulation Group in Washington, D.C.
For many Washington lobbyists, the election means they won’t be playing defense against new regulations, taxes and restrictions as anticipated. Unexpectedly, their clients are on the offense and, suddenly, the playing field is wide open.
“We were preparing for worst-case scenarios and, instead, we’re going to have an opportunity to fix things,” said Marc S. Lampkin, co-chair of the Government Relations Department at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which represents healthcare, financial services and energy interests, and is active in the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Hunter Bates, former chief of staff to Sen. Mitch McConnell and senior policy consultant at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which specializes in bankruptcy/restructuring, healthcare, government relations, media/entertainment law and energy development, said Trump’s election has revitalized many of his firm’s clients’ aspirations for the foreseeable future.
“There has definitely been a lot of activity” since Trump’s election, he said. “Businesses have been dreaming of tax reform, yearning for ACA (Affordable Care Act) repeal for a long time now. These were considered far-fetched dreams last week, now they’re a potential reality.”
“If anybody said they predicted what happened, I think they might be fibbing,” said Frank J. Donatelli, Director of Federal Government Relations at McGuireWoods Consulting, which specializes in infrastructure and economic development, strategic and grassroots communications and government relations.
“We have already been approached by energy concerns to help modify burdensome environmental regulations, by a provider group that is looking for major changes in the ACA and by firms interested in additional infrastructure investments,” Donatelli said.
Lobbyists say clients are looking to influence anticipated legislative and policy proposals addressing environmental/financial regulatory relief, corporate/personal tax reform, ACA repeal, immigration overhaul and infrastructure development, all key components of Trump’s campaign.
“There are a lot of parts to the puzzle,” Donatelli said. “The industries that could benefit would be energy, financial services and the whole building industry. They will all have an interest in ramping up their activities in Washington and be heavily engaged in federal policymaking in the first year of the new Trump administration.”
Gold said Holland & Knight – with 1,200 attorneys specializing in healthcare, transportation, security and international trade – is fielding queries from clients expressing a wide range of concerns and objectives. “Everybody we represent is influenced by everything that is on the table,” he said. “There will be repercussions from food safety to climate change to financial regulations. There is going to be a significant appetite in looking at the relationships between the federal government and regulated industries.”
Trump’s pledge to substantially invest in upgrading infrastructure could be the priority most likely to quickly generate bipartisan momentum and produce tangible results.
“There will be a push for infrastructure: State and local governments and the construction industry are going to be active in promoting this emphasis,” Gold said.
Bates said Trump could set the tone for his legislative agenda by using executive orders to unravel administrative rules encoded by the Obama Administration and “dialing them back in a new direction toward business and job creation.”
“On Day One, President Trump can immediately have an impact by giving the green light” to the Keystone XL pipeline halted by Obama, Bates said. “That would not take Congressional approval.”
Donatelli said the Trump Administration could move quickly without Congressional action simply by placing greater emphasis on the “cost-benefit” component of regulatory analyses, a tweak to ensure administrative rules are “reviewed by elected representatives, not just implemented by a career government official.”
Lobbyists warn that Trump’s campaign pledges to roll back environmental and financial regulations, revamp corporate or personal tax codes, reform immigration laws and, especially, repeal the ACA are going to take time and patience.
“People have to keep their expectations in check,” Bates said, noting there hasn’t been a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s tax codes since 1986.
“It’s going to be difficult and exacting. It isn’t just political (opposition), but the complexities. It will be full of winners and losers and there will need to be a balanced approach. You can’t do it in the first 100 days. It will require deliberation and negotiation to get it over the goal line.”
Repealing Obamacare, in particular, is going to be easier said than done, he said, requiring exhaustive legislative and regulatory tedium that could prove frustrating for Trumps supporters seeking action. “I think people will be realistic about the timeline for delivering this monumental objective,” Bates said, noting the process must be executed “carefully, softly, deliberately. This is not something that will happen overnight.”
Lampkin agreed, noting repealing the ACA will require extensive and time-consuming reviews of cost and price structures for a healthcare insurance program that 20 million Americans are enrolled in.
The devil is in the details, Bates said. Trump promised quick and decisive changes, but many of those initiatives will take time to adopt and implement. Yet, somehow, Trump must produce tangible results or, potentially, face a similar situation that Obama faced in the 2010 mid-term elections. “As he described it himself, (Obama) took ‘a shellacking,’ in losing the House” and, later, the Senate to Republicans, he said.
Target 2018 Elections Now: Lobbyists say the Trump Administration will target those in Congress who resist his initiatives during the mid-term elections, which include all 435 House and 33 Senate seats.
Gold said any of the 193 Democrats now serving in a district that voted for Trump could be particularly vulnerable, and that is an important consideration when crafting advocacy campaigns.
“President Trump will be looking for opportunities to work with Democrats, particularly those up for re-election in 2018 in ‘Trump’ states,” Bates agreed. “He has the ability to use the bully pulpit like no one we’ve seen. When you take that into the White House, his ability to communicate with the country and take the Democrats with him is very high.”
Therefore, it’s not a good time to appear more committed to ideology than to producing results.
This presents opportunities to forge bipartisan alliances, Lampkin said. “You have a president who is not beholden to Washington – that has the propensity to produce partnerships and unity on a set of issues,” he said.
Using the Data: Anticipating that a Clinton Administration would derail their industry’s nascent rebound from a three-year slump with restrictive regulations, the American Petroleum Institute, which represents 625 companies that support 9.8 million U.S. jobs, conducted an “actual voter poll” on election night to collect data it hoped would help make its case that Americans support domestic energy development.
“With the oil and natural gas industry facing 145 regulations or other policy-setting activities that could discourage production, preventing regulatory over-reach should be a top priority,” API President and CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement describing the impetus for conducting the poll.
The results: Eighty percent of polled voters support increased development of U.S. oil and natural gas resources, including 71 percent of Democrats, 94 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Independents.
Now, with Trump, not Clinton, bound for the Oval Office, the results of API’s poll can be used to lobby for action – increased oil and gas development – rather than for inaction, in the terms of regulatory “over-reach.”
“Voters want a Congress and administration that works for their interests,” Gerard said. “And just as there is bipartisan voter support for energy priorities, there is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats in Congress to work toward pro-development policies that provide economic growth, job creation and energy security.
Seek Personal Alliances & Educate: Public lands policy, in general, and wildlife habitat and conservation, specifically, were not primary issues in the campaign, but they are certainly front-and-center matters across the West.
As the Director of Government Relations for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which represents 35,000 individual advocates and 1,400 affiliated local- and state-level clubs and organizations, Steve Kline acknowledges, “As is always the case, there will need to be a huge amount of education we’ll have to do.”
The TRCP is not opposed to economic development — lumber, grazing, mineral extraction — on public lands. “We advocate a ‘go-slow approach,’” he said. “There are going to be places too important to drill and there will be places where intensive energy production is appropriate. We must have proper planning in identifying a balance that reinforces the multi-use mandate on public land.”
That balance and economic assessment must recognize sustainable conservation of public lands is as much an economic issue as it is an environmental issue, Kline said.
“This is not just about what some people like to do on the weekends,” he said. “This is about a $90 billion economic industry that employs millions of people around the country. The way you protect these jobs and this way of life is through conservation – through a conservation business plan, a conservation infrastructure plan. These jobs and people are a big part of the rural American economic landscape.”
And who elected Trump? “The people of rural America have surely sent a message,” Kline said. “A lot of sportsmen voted for President-Elect Trump.”
There hasn’t been a committed sportsman in the White House since George H. Bush – an avid angler – left, he said, noting no one will confuse President-Elect Trump with a sportsman who enjoys hunting and fishing on America’s public lands.
“He may not be a sportsman, but two of his sons are – especially Donald Trump, Jr.,” Kline said. “That’s as close to the White House as a sportsman has been since 1992.”
Kline said Trump has pledged that, despite his commitment to open more land to energy leases, he will protect wildlife habitat, conservation programs and protect access. But what is impressive, he added, is Donald Trump, Jr., has reiterated his father’s campaign commitment in meeting after meeting, speech after speech, in conservation and gun clubs off the campaign trail across the country.