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K Street Sees Opportunity, Fears in Trump Address to Congress

Lobbyists brace for what’s ahead

President Donald Trump has not been shy about criticizing lobbyists or special interests on K Street previously. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump has not been shy about criticizing lobbyists or special interests on K Street previously. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lobbying groups and corporations say they are eager for President Donald Trump to buoy their favorite agenda items in his joint address to Congress on Tuesday, but some fear the commander in chief may also criticize their industries. 

K Street is preparing for both.

Lobbyists for business clients and conservative organizations have been pressing Congress and the new administration for major overhauls of tax and health policy — which Trump is sure to spotlight. But success for some may well be determined as much by what doesn’t get said in Tuesday’s State of the Union-style speech.

“I expect he’ll talk about energy and oil and gas and the role it plays in his broader vision,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, noting the administration’s support for new pipeline projects and rolling back industry regulations as a way to stimulate jobs and economic growth. “The president gets it, the people he has brought in with him get it, and they talk about it often.

“As you know, we’re not bashful in communicating our views around town and elsewhere,” Gerard added.

But some sectors have a more tenuous rapport with the president, who has criticized pharmaceutical companies and defense contractors for their prices.

Holly Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, pointed to a late January White House meeting with Trump and Stephen Ubl, who heads the trade group. They discussed areas of “common ground” such as the tax overhaul and removing regulations that drive up costs and slow innovation, she said in an email.

Trump took a dig at K Street during his speech last Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

“We will not answer to donors or lobbyists, or special interests, but we will serve the citizens of the United States of America, believe me,” he said.

Business lobbyists said they and their clients are hoping for a traditional address in which Trump works to build support for and clarify his views on tax legislation, repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law, and a package to spur new infrastructure projects.

Corporate clients, generally, are seeking analysis and counseling from their lobbyists about how to keep their priorities in the mix without becoming the subject of a tweet or a tongue-lashing.

“We’re talking about, ‘How do we keep them out of the spotlight,’” said Rich Gold, who heads the public policy and regulation group at Holland & Knight.

Conservative activists, meanwhile, say they’re looking to the president to invigorate their grass roots and to nudge Congress forward on repeal of the health care law, which is proving tricky to act on quickly.

“The president and this Congress have a tremendous opportunity to make good on a lot of the promises they made in this last election: Obamacare repeal, regulatory reform, budget reform, spending cuts, tax reform,” said Sean Lansing, chief operating officer of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.

Lansing, specifically, wants Trump to come out forcefully against a border adjustment tax that would target imports, potentially increasing costs for numerous consumer goods. Congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, favor the proposal.

“It would be great if he could come out and tell Congress that the BAT is dead on arrival, as it should be,” Lansing said.

Conservatives off the Hill are also looking for Trump to counter the growing agitation of activists on the left.

“There’s been a gap since the election, and that’s been where the political energy has been filled by the left,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America. “The way to really overcome that enthusiasm is going out and delivering on policy victories, but before that, it’s going out and painting that vision.” 

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