At his re-election campaign kickoff event this week, Donald Trump made a curious boast to supporters about his record as president: "We stared down the unholy alliance of lobbyists and donors and special interests, who made a living bleeding our country dry. That's what we've done."
He did not appear to be kidding.
The president's timing could've been better. His comments in Orlando about "staring down" lobbyists and special interests came just hours after Trump tapped a former lobbyist to oversee the Pentagon.
...Trump tapped Mark Esper, a former Raytheon lobbyist, as the acting Defense secretary this afternoon. He'll replace Pat Shanahan, the former Boeing executive who had served in an acting capacity since the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. [...]Esper was a registered lobbyist for Raytheon as recently as 2017 before Trump nominated him to be Army secretary.
Politico added in a separate report that the Trump administration is currently engaged in sensitive negotiations with Turkey, which Esper will likely have to recuse himself from because the talks will affect Raytheon -- the defense contractor for which Esper lobbied until recently.
At the next cabinet meeting at the White House, Esper won't have to feel too self-conscious about being a former lobbyist, since he'll have plenty of company. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt lobbied for the energy industry, as did EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar wasn't exactly a lobbyist for a giant pharmaceutical company, but he did oversee the company's lobbying efforts.
Azar has also worked with Joe Grogan, a former drug industry lobbyist who went on to help shape the Trump administration's drug-pricing plan. Trump ultimately promoted the former lobbyist to lead the White House's Domestic Policy Council.
The New York Times reported a while back, "President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck."
That was two years ago -- before former lobbyists started joining the president's cabinet. (And if we were to tackle the members of Trump's team who left the cabinet to begin related corporate work, it'd take a whole other blog post.)
As regular readers may recall, this isn't exactly what voters were told to expect when Candidate Trump was seeking the presidency. On the contrary, the Republican spent months telling voters how tired he was of everyone in D.C. "being controlled by the special interests and the lobbyists." At one point, he went so far as to say he'd have "no problem" banning lobbyists from his administration altogether.
In 2016, Trump even unveiled a fairly specific blueprint for “ending government corruption,” which included a series of provisions pertaining to limiting the influence of lobbyists.
Voters who took the rhetoric seriously probably didn't expect to see quite so many former lobbyists overseeing the same federal agencies they used to try to influence.
And yet, there was Trump in Orlando, assuring his fans that he stared down "the unholy alliance" of D.C. power brokers.
It's as cynical a lie as any the president will peddle between now and Election Day 2020.