Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, a pariah within his own party for racist comments and whom K Street interests worked to defeat this week, shouldn’t expect a lucrative lobbying gig awaiting him when he exits Congress.
King, who lost his primary Tuesday, would be too controversial for lobbying firms, trade associations and corporations, say lobbyists and K Street headhunters, even as many former lawmakers decamp for such jobs. This week offers an especially stark picture for King, as many companies and lobbying groups issued statements offering support for racial justice efforts amid Black Lives Matter protests gripping the nation.
“I can’t imagine any scenario where Steve King would be an attractive candidate in representing corporate America,” said Republican lobbyist Marc Lampkin, the managing partner of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Washington office. “His conduct is often described as being bigoted and outrageous and inflammatory.”
King had also lost influence among his colleagues well before he lost the Republican primary in Iowa’s 4th District to state Sen. Randy Feenstra, who criticized the incumbent’s loss of power.
Republican House leaders stripped King of committee assignments last year after he gave an interview to The New York Times questioning when such terms as “white nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization” had become “offensive.” King has made several racist comments during his career, and he almost lost reelection in 2018 in a northwest Iowa seat President Donald Trump had carried by 27 points two years earlier.
It’s rare for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to get involved in primaries against Republican incumbents, but this year, it and the National Association of Realtors — the two biggest spenders on K Street — endorsed Feenstra.
In a concession speech carried on C-SPAN on Wednesday, King said he called Feenstra and warned him “there are some powerful elements in the swamp that he’s going to have an awfully hard time pushing back against.”
King decried super PAC spending against him, saying he didn’t know how powerful they are and worrying about who they would come after next.
“I would also like to point out that of all the four opponents that I’ve had in this race, not one of them has raised an issue with a single vote I put up or a single statement that I made,” hesaid. “This all comes from an effort to push out the strongest voice for full-spectrum constitutional Christian conservatism that existed in the United States Congress.”
K Street headhunter Ivan Adler said the current business environment, rocked by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic collapse, has made it a “very challenging time for people of all political views to get hired on K Street.”
That makes it all the harder for someone with King’s history.
“What you’ve said in the past has not always mattered so much when it comes to hiring on K Street, but today and especially in the internet era where words last forever, they are harder to overlook,” Adler said. “I think Rep. King’s best bet is to go back home to Iowa and not look to K Street for his next opportunity.”
Revolving door, closed
Going to K Street has been a longtime path for lawmakers who lose reelection or retire. Of the more than 100 members from the 115th Congress who departed, at least 34 joined lobbying firms or went into private-sector employment, according to a CQ Roll Call study late last year.
Joseph Crowley, the New York Democrat who lost in a primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, set up shop at Squire Patton Boggs.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the city’s biggest lobbying practice, has a number of recent members, including ex-Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, and former Sen. Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat.
“We have absolutely no intention whatsoever of recruiting Mr. King,” Akin Gump spokesman Benjamin J. Harris said
Business and lobbying interests “value former policymakers who can bridge the partisan divide and move sensible and fair-minded policies forward in Washington,” said Kristin Brackemyre, director of PAC and government relations for the Public Affairs Council. “Steve King is not known for either of those things, so I don’t see him being successful in the government relations arena.”
Some former lawmakers have gone to think tanks or conservative social-cause groups, but even that may be difficult for King.
“Steve King is even less likely to find a perch, even in that world,” Lampkin said.
“With all the underlying tensions in our society,” he added, referring to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25 and subsequent demonstrations, “there’s more attention to social justice and racial inequality. He’s someone whose conduct runs in direct polar opposite to that reckoning.”