SWAMP THING

Donald Trump’s transition team is assembling like a super-lobbyist Voltron

Obsession
2016
Obsession
2016

Donald Trump has assembled a team of advisors to help him staff his administration and plot policy going forward. Many members of the team working on economic policy are lobbyists, despite Trump’s repeated promises to “drain the swamp” if elected.

These advisors will assemble the ranks of officials who will attempt to make Trump’s campaign vision, however blurry, a policy reality. But the president-elect lacks the deep network of experts that often accompany a candidate to office, so he is filling the vacuum with a who’s-who of corporate attorneys and bankers. In the process, these advocates will put themselves in the best position to have access to officials when they are doing government business.

“He is going to need some people to help guide him through the swamp—how do you get in and how you get out?” Trent Lott, the former Mississippi Senator and powerful lobbyist, told the New York Times. “We are prepared to help do that.”

Economics

Trump’s transition-team advisor for the Department of the Treasury policy is David Malpass, who also worked for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before spending 15 years with Bear Stearns. He was the investment bank’s chief economist before its near-collapse in 2008 led to a firesale to JPMorgan and signalled the start of the financial crisis. Trump’s headline economic pledges—namely, to double annual US GDP growth to 4% or more—are common conservative fodder. Malpass wrote a chapter in a 2012 book on this very issue, The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs, claiming that “fast growth isn’t rocket science.” All it takes is a strong dollar backed by higher interest rates, lower taxes, lighter regulations, and a limit on debt. Simple!

A name in the frame for Treasury secretary is Steven Mnuchin, the Trump campaign’s chief fundraiser. Mnuchin spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs—as did his father, a prominent Goldman partner—with key roles in the investment bank’s mortgage operations, before starting a hedge fund with backing from George Soros. As it happens, Goldman and Soros were both called out in Trump’s final campaign ad as part of the “global special interests” out of touch with common people.

Jason Karaian

Telecommunications

Donald Trump has picked Jeffrey Eisenach, a veteran foe of federal technology regulation, to lead his telecom transition team. A former economist at the Federal Trade Commissions and advisor in Ronald Reagan’s White House, Eisenach has fiercely attacked the FCC’s attempts to enforce net neutrality through the Federal Communications Commission. Net neutrality rules give all websites and services equal access to internet distribution, and are expected to be rolled back under Trump, who has called them a “top-down power grab” to “target the conservative media” and equated them (inaccurately) with the Fairness Doctrine. The FCC may also doom another of Obama’s signature tech initiatives, to expand broadband outside American cities.

Trump has not formulated a full technology policy platform, but the campaign did in October ask industry advocacy groups representing companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter to recommend federal agency appointments, and regulations they’d like to see removed, according to Politico. The meeting also came with a fundraising pitch.

– Michael J. Coren

Labor relations

The man filling seats at the Department of Labor is J. Steven Hart, a high-profile Washington lobbyist who previously worked in the Reagan administration. An Oklahoma native with ties to former Rep. Tom DeLay, Stevens has lobbied for Coca-Cola and Pfizer. “Hart is the man corporations call when they’re having trouble with labor unions,” according to Washingtonian magazine. Trump clashed with labor unions as a businessman, and he may attempt to roll back some of gains working people made under Obama, such as a lower income threshold for receiving overtime.

—Oliver Staley

Food policy

Trump has recruited veteran Capitol Hill lobbyist Michael K. Torrey to shepherd the transition of the US Department of Agriculture and its portfolio, including farm subsidies, the food stamp program, the Farm Bill, school meals, nutrition labeling rules, and more.

Torrey, who has been described as an even-keeled moderate by colleagues in other lobbying firms, has represented the interests of Big Soda in an array of areas, including food stamps policy, the government’s Dietary Guidelines, and food package labeling issues, financial disclosures show. Trump has yet to speak specifically about his food and agriculture policy ambitions, which he rarely addressed during the campaign.

— Chase Purdy

The environment

The person in charge of staffing up the Environmental Protection Agency is Myron Ebell, currently the director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian DC think tank that is a nonprofit but largely funded by industry. The organization opposes most of Obama’s policies and “questions global warming alarmism.” It also “opposes energy-rationing policies, including the Kyoto Protocol, cap-and-trade legislation, and EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions,” as well as “all government mandates and subsidies for conventional and alternative energy technologies.”

Ebell also chairs the “Cooler Heads Coalition,” which is financed by CEI, and whose stated mission is “dispelling the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific, and risk analysis.” In 1998, Ebell worked with oil giant Exxon to develop a communications strategy designed to “undercut the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom’” and force uncertainty to “become part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’”

— Elijah Wolfson

Energy

Trump’s transition website outlines a list of goodies for the fossil fuel industry, including reopening oil-drilling leasing on public lands and waters, and issuing more coal-mining permits. To get people in place to execute this plan, Trump has turned to Mike McKenna, a lobbyist at his own shop, MWR Strategies, where in 2016 McKenna has made at least $390,000 advocating on behalf of companies like Dow Chemical and Koch Industries. Trump also tapped David Bernhardt, a former Bush administration official who now represents large energy companies at the nation’s second-largest lobbying firm.

— Tim Fernholz

Trade

At least one of Trump’s transition planners isn’t a creature of Washington. He appointed the former CEO of Nucor Steel, Dan DiMicco, to handle staffing for the office of the US Trade Representative. DiMicco has been an outspoken critic of US trade policy, particularly with China, and became a Trump advisor earlier this year. “Trump clearly sees it and he will work to put an end to China’s ‘Mercantilist Trade War’! A War it has been waging against us for nearly 2 decades! A war in which we have yet to show up to fight! Trump gets it!” DiMicco wrote on his blog earlier this year. “He will do this by negotiating from a position of strength, not condescending weakness.”

— Tim Fernholz

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