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K Street not waiting for Trump to concede the presidential race

Lobbying groups line up to press incoming Biden administration

A woman takes a selfie in front of a protest sign reading "Game Over" on H Street in front of the White House in Washington on Friday morning.
A woman takes a selfie in front of a protest sign reading "Game Over" on H Street in front of the White House in Washington on Friday morning. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As far as K Street is concerned, President Donald Trump’s a loser.

At least of the 2020 presidential race, that is.  

Even as Trump balked at conceding the election, lobbying interests that span the political and policy spectrum began to publicly congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as soon as The Associated Press and television networks projected their victory Saturday. 

Not only that, business groups and other K Street interests have begun to reach out to the incoming Biden-Harris administration on policy and personnel matters, seeking to shape the agenda of the coming years.

“Everyone we talk to on the Biden team, we get consistent messaging about the need to immediately arrest the pandemic, to support businesses and families during that period and then ultimately make investments for the long term,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, during a call with reporters Monday. “I take from that that this is a unified team effort that’s led from the top over there.”

During the chamber’s call, to discuss the lobbying group’s plans to work with the incoming Biden administration and the 117th Congress, Bradley declined to say who on the transition team the chamber is in contact with and added: “We are talking to multiple folks.” 

He said he sees promise for collaboration on immigration and infrastructure matters with the incoming administration and Congress.

Other big K Street players, as well as niche lobbying organizations, wasted no time in seeking to build bridges to the incoming Biden team. In addition to the U.S. Chamber, the groups issuing congratulatory statements included the National Restaurant Association, the American Council of Life Insurers, the American Chemistry Council, the National Retail Federation, Credit Union National Association and the Online Lenders Alliance, among many others.  

Those statements came even as Trump and his campaign pursued multiple legal challenges to the election results, including in Pennsylvania, where results showing Biden in the lead put him over the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Given the lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud that could upend the direction of the presidential election, K Street carried on. 

The Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs of major companies, issued a statement on Saturday shortly after the AP called the race. 

“Business Roundtable congratulates President-elect Biden on his election as 46th President of the United States. We also congratulate Vice President-elect Harris on her historic accomplishment as the first woman, Black woman and person of South Asian descent to be elected Vice President of the United States,” the group said in a news statement. “We extend our congratulations to the re-elected and newly-elected members of Congress, governors and other state and local officials. We look forward to working with the incoming Biden Administration and all federal and state policymakers.”

The roundtable added that it commended Trump “for a hard-fought campaign that has garnered over 70 million votes.” 

Business praise for Biden

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, not only sent out a congratulatory statement to the Biden-Harris ticket on Saturday, but he also praised the president-elect on Monday for encouraging all Americans to wear masks.  

“Since the early days of the pandemic, manufacturers have been calling on our fellow Americans to wear face coverings in public, socially distance and follow other smart health practices,” Timmons said in a statement. “Manufacturers and the business community look forward to continuing to work with the Biden–Harris transition team and administration to ensure that our nation successfully restores our public health and recovers economically.”

Still, even as the nation’s lobbying sector works to influence the incoming Biden administration, it is not clear how receptive the transition, or the new administration, might be to the perspectives of K Street. Two spokespeople for the Biden-Harris transition did not respond to questions about whether recently registered federal lobbyists would be permitted to hold any formal roles in the coming administration. 

Ties to K Street

Biden, of course, is no newbie to Washington and knows his way around K Street.

His son Hunter is a former registered lobbyist, and the president-elect has numerous former aides downtown, including Danny O’Brien at Fox Corp. and T-Mobile’s Anthony Russo, among others, according to a revolving door tracker by the Center for Responsive Politics. Biden’s former chief of staff from his vice presidential office was Steve Ricchetti, who also once was a registered lobbyist. 

The Biden campaign rejected donations from registered federal lobbyists, and lobbyists were not permitted to advise the campaign on policy matters. 

The Obama administration prohibited anyone who had been a registered federal lobbyist in the previous two years from serving in the executive branch without a waiver.  

When it comes to offering outside perspectives on public policy debates, lobbyists say they expect the Biden administration to be willing to hear them out.   

“I think if you’re trying to figure out health care, you should probably talk to the people who do health care,” said lobbyist Steve Elmendorf, a Democrat who co-founded the firm Subject Matter. Ditto for other policy areas, he added. “I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t want to be connected to the people who know a lot about these issues.” 

Elmendorf said one of the major differences with the Biden transition is that it was beginning without the cooperation of the current administration, as Trump presses his case in the courts. 

Ivan Zapien, a partner at the law and lobbying firm Hogan Lovells, said he’s urging patience among his clients as they seek to navigate the uncertainties ahead. 

“If the Trump administration taught us anything as advocates, it’s how to thrive and push our clients forward in the midst of this sort of chaos, or other people would call it a different way of doing things,” said Zapien, a former congressional Democratic aide. “The transition is a difficult time to get people’s attention. These are people that are putting the plane together at 30,000 feet.”

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