Beltway Briefing: Efforts to Right the Ship

Blake RutherfordMark Alderman, and Howard Schweitzer, of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies, discuss the recent developments in politics and policy in Washington, D.C.

Blake: ... another edition of The Beltway Briefing. My name is Blake Rutherford. I'm joined, as always, by Mark Alderman, the chairman of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies, and Howard Schweitzer, the managing partner of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies. Mark, Howard, great to be with you.

Howard: Great to be here.

Blake: It is another week in the administration of Donald Trump, and yet it is only a month into the administration of Donald Trump. Dare I say it today, all quieter on the Western front than perhaps it has been.

Mark: On the West Wing front.

Blake: The West Wing front, right ... than it has been, which I think affords us a unique opportunity to just take a step back, take stock of what we've seen. You guys have done, I think, an outstanding job of analyzing the evolution of this administration hour to hour, day to day, week to week. We are now a month in, and the government is not as staffed as I think we would have expected it to be. There has been some policy challenges, lots of disruptions. Again, new administrations find their footing in their own way, and certainly this one is attempting to do that.

I thought we would begin our discussion in an open-ended fashion. Mark, I'll start with you. Let's just take stock of the Trump administration one month in.

Mark: I think, Blake, that one of the things we are seeing is something that Howard and I have actually written about, which is that Donald J. Trump repealed every law of primary and general elections, but he doesn't seem to have repealed the laws of Washington. There are fundamental laws of Washington physics that are asserting themselves here a month in, and they will have consequences for the Trump agenda. One such law is that Congress hates the White House, and the White House hates Congress.

You know, Blake ... Howard and I know from our work and our conversations ... that the White House has very little knowledge of or interest in what Congress is doing. Congress has very little interest in or knowledge of what the White House is doing. There are parallel healthcare programs being worked on. There are parallel tax plans being worked on. That is going to come together and collide at some point when they actually start governing.

Blake: Howard, what are your impressions of this administration so far?

Howard: I'm going to start with an ITYS because last week you guys laughed at me when I said that I thought there was something good to be found in the whole Flynn episode, and it actually was. Trump replaced a very divisive character in Flynn with somebody that's been universally applauded as an excellent pick for national security advisor, a stabilizing factor in the White House.

Blake: H.R. McMaster.

Howard: H.R. McMaster.

Blake: True.

Howard: Another intellectual general. That's a good sign. Is it the answer to all of our concerns? No, but it's a good sign, I think.

Mark: The Flynn investigation-

Howard: That continues. That will be ongoing for multiple years.

Mark: We upgraded. No question ...

Howard: No question, we upgraded.

Mark: ... we upgraded.

Howard: I think, if you're looking for signs that the Trump administration knows it needs to get its act together and do things differently, to me that was a sign, and a very good one at that.

Mark, I agree with what you said. The administration is working hard on tax reform, on health care reform. They are going to drop legislative packages on Washington, and that's coming in the next couple of months. I think they are absolutely operating in parallel universes.

Mark: All of the dates that each parallel universe is declaring are therefore parallel but surreal. The idea that we will have tax reform by August, as the Secretary of the Treasury promised, is a fantasy. The idea that we will have healthcare reform this spring, as the Speaker of the House promised, is a fantasy. Until they start working it through, we have no idea when any of this will happen.

Howard: Go ahead, Blake.

Blake: Yeah, I'm going to get to the policy in a minute, but I don't want to gloss over, I think, some of the dynamics that are influencing why there is this sense that Congress may be going its own way, the White House going its own way, and perhaps they divide and conquer. Certainly, we've seen information that the White House may really look to Congress to drive tax reform and healthcare. I want to come back to that.

For both of you ... and you can tell me whether it matters. Trump speaks so much about ratings and so much about the role of him and his staff in the eyes of the public. Public approvals matter to this president, as we saw with the 77-minute press conference-

Mark: Was that what that was? That was a press conference?

Blake: I don't know. That's what Sean Spicer called it, so I'm going to just ... I'm going to say what he says. Here's some numbers. Quinnipiac came out with a new poll, a very reputable polling outfit. The president has got a 38% approval rating. He's got a 55% disapproval rating. Only 44% of the country approves of how he's handling the economy, and 49% of people see his White House in "chaos." Does any of that matter at this stage?

Mark: Two things. One, none of it mattered in the general election because he had historically low numbers in every category you've just cited and he is now the president of the United States. I've lost a lot of enthusiasm for polling post-November 8. I don't know that the numbers are even right, let alone that they matter. I'll tell you what does matter, I believe, which is apropos to that question. This, again, is one of these laws of Washington physics.

A president begins his ... I was going to say "or her" but that would be wrong ... begins his administration with a political capital account that he spends down to get things done. I think that President Trump is spending down that account more quickly than other presidents have. When the time comes for governing and for legislating, I don't know how much capital is going to be left in that account. Certainly, there's none with the Democrats at this point. There was thought that maybe Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump would get along because they were both guys from New York. That ain't happening.

Howard: We are six weeks into this thing. This stuff takes time. It's hard to start an administration. Even Barack Obama ... and he brought in a class of experienced political operators. I was there. I can't tell you how slow out of the gate they were, incredibly slow.

Mark: Blake, you were there in part of it. He passed a stimulus bill ...

Blake: I was going to say ... Right.

Mark: ... that, along with TARP and many other programs, helped save the economy in the first 70, 80 days. It was April, I think.

Blake: Yeah, right.

Howard: That was a unique time from that perspective. We were on the edge of a cliff, so that was a different time. That, obviously, had some impact on their ability to get going.

I'm not talking about a legislative agenda. Who cares whether they've introduced a major piece of legislation yet? That's not a referendum on how these guys are doing. Their job is to govern. Their job is to get their house in order. It's to staff up the administration. It's to start to govern.

They are off to a slow start, but they know they're off to a slow start. I don't think the opinion polls matter. I think he is preserving his base, which is frankly ... Maybe he cares too much about that now, but he's got that in his back pocket. Now he's trying to build an administration, and I think they know that. I think there's more self-awareness in the White House than people are giving them credit for.

Blake: To this notion of building the government ... because we are hearing this government is understaffed. It's six weeks in, and he finally has a national security advisor, which is arguably the epicenter of all national security policy in the government.

Howard: He had one before. He just had one that lied.

Blake: Right, but you understand the point, which is ... There's a story out today where Rex Tillerson is, as effect, trying to figure out how to recalibrate his own positioning because of the tension between Cabinet secretaries and the White House, which I would like to talk about because you guys have experience with this ... and trying to figure out what that foreign policy apparatus really is going to look like.

Some of these challenges, while, yeah, we debate whether Congress should've introduced a signature piece of legislation ... Not to editorialize, but I think what the Trump administration would say is, "We came out hard on immigration. That was our number one issue, and we're out hard on that with new rules." Be that as it may, Mark-

Mark: A Muslim ban that has-

Blake: Yeah, I'm not taking ... I'm just saying you're-

Mark: No, but this is pertinent. They are taking their time to try to get it right. To Howard's point that they are aware that they've been doing it wrong, I think that that is evidence that they've learned something. We'll see if what comes out is constitutional, but, yes, they have learned from that experience.

Howard: Schumer has very effectively slowed the confirmation process. They're doing a good job with the tools they have of slowing things down, of showing what they want to show about the Cabinet nominees ... they being the Democrats. I think when you slow down the secretary, you slow everything down that goes along with the agency. That is one factor.

Another factor is these guys just weren't expecting to win. As I said 500 times now, they didn't have an effective transition operation. As a result, they're slow to staff, but so was Barack Obama. So was George W. Bush.

Blake: To be fair to that, I think there was certainly ... Part of this, I think we would all agree, is Trump's persona and this notion of management styles, and different executives have different management styles. You guys have advised CEOs, who ... You put two guys around a table, they're going to tell you exactly what they think, and they're not going to agree on how to run a company.

Trump runs his company how he runs his company, and he certainly sought to bring some of that into the White House. Right or not -- we're certainly not experts on his management style -- but, boy, we sure are focused on that management style a lot. Is that helpful in our understanding of the functionality of Washington at this stage? Put another way, does it matter that we're talking about it?

Howard: It's helpful in our understanding of the functionality of the White House. It's not helpful in understanding the functionality of Washington because, to your point earlier, Mark, Congress doesn't give a hoot ... That's not true. Congress is coming to the realization that they need to start ignoring the tweets, and they need to put their heads down and do what they're going to do. They've got to block the White House out to the extent that they can.

Mark: Two things. One, "What management style?" I would ask. I'm not sure how to answer the question about his management style. I don't think we know what it is. I'm not sure he does. I think there are a lot of different things going on here. This is multidimensional chess, and it isn't all being played by Donald Trump on his board, although he certainly commands the most attention. One of the things that is going on, and it is what is really I think energizing and animating these town hall meetings, like we saw, Blake, with your state's senator last night-

Blake: I want to get your thoughts about that.

Mark: One of the things going on is that after seven years of promising on day one of a Republican administration and a Republican Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that hasn't happened. That's not on Donald Trump. That's on the Republicans in Congress. Then it was repeal and replace. That hasn't happened, nor is it going to happen anytime soon. You can't lay those town halls all at the feet of the president. I think you have a lot of different things happening here, and some at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Howard: Absolutely, but I think you're wrong, Mark, that we don't have clues as to his management style. It may be unorthodox, and there may be some conflicting signals, but I think, again, back to the McMaster appointment, he deliberately put a guy in the job with walk-in rights to the Oval Office whose reputation is being a guy who will buck his superiors, who will say that's the wrong decision. I don't care if you're running a law firm, running a Fortune 500 company, or running the United States of America, that is a very ... That's the most powerful thing you can do as a manager is to hire somebody who's going to tell you when you're wrong. To me, that's just a great sign.

Mark: I think it's a great hire. Whether it's a sign or not, we'll see, but it is a great hire. The country is better off for it. I thank the president for a great hire.

Blake: Let's talk about-

Mark: We'll see if it's a sign.

Blake: Let's talk about, because we have some time, Trump is staffing up his Cabinet. His Cabinet secretaries are becoming more visible. General Mattis ... or Secretary Mattis now, I should say ... and Secretary Tillerson taking trips abroad, heading to Mexico, among other places. You all talked about Secretary Mnuchin's comments about tax reform. It still seems like that the epicenter of policy power in this administration is the White House.

Howard: In every administration.

Blake: Right. Well ... yes.

Howard: This is not new. Where was the power in the Obama administration? Was it at Foggy Bottom with Hillary Clinton or 1600 Pennsylvania with Barack Obama? There's no question.

Mark: Taking a step back, I think, Blake, that is a trend that has been accelerating for decades. That, I completely concur, is not new to the Trump administration.

Howard: Was it in the White House with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, or was it in Foggy Bottom with Colin Powell?

Mark: The White House-

Blake: It was nice that you acknowledged the president in that scenario.

Mark: That's what I was-

Howard: Fair enough. I threw Cheney in.

Mark: That's exactly what I was coming to. That is an accelerating trend, R or D, for decades. The White House has been aggregating the power of the executive branch, and that will not change with this president. My question, though, is apropos of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Who is wielding that power in this White House at this time? Obviously-

Howard: Steve Bannon.

Blake: Right. It's a nice segue, Mark, because I wanted to ask-

Mark: I didn't hear your answer.

Howard: Steve Bannon.

Mark: Right. President Bannon.

Blake: Howard, I wanted to ask about this ...

Mark: That's the way the world works.

Blake: ... because we have seen ... Again, I think it's interesting.

Mark: Who was doing that in the Obama White House? President Obama.

Howard: Barack Obama.

Mark: Right. Okay. He's the one who got elected, if I remember correctly.

Howard: It revolves. Valerie Jarrett is actually the answer, Mark. I just wasn't quick enough on my feet there. It's the same in every administration, whether it's in the person of the president ... I'm sorry, Blake, I interrupted you.

Blake: No, no, no-

Howard: Whether it's in the person of the president or it's in whoever is behind the president ... If your question was, "Is it Mike Pence or Donald Trump?" it's Donald Trump because they are Trump's people that are running the White House. They're not Mike Pence's people.

Mark: No, that's not my question ...

Howard: Okay, what's your question?

Mark: ... but you answered my question. Is it Donald Trump or Steve Bannon? You answered my question. This is a president who very much, unlike his predecessor ... We can roll the clock back, if you want, to others. Barack Obama, whatever his imperfections -- and he came to the job almost as inexperienced at governing as Donald Trump -- he had an intense interest in the job, in doing the hard work of being president. This president, to me, appears to be far more interested in the public aspects of the job.

Howard: Obviously, but he's also ... Stylistically, they're very different. Barack Obama is a lawyer, and he governed at the beginning of his presidency like a lawyer. He was very deliberate and looked at both sides of the issues. He's not impulsive. Trump is clearly impulsive. He's very public in his impulsivity, if that's a word. He-

Mark: He also didn't believe things that aren't true.

Howard: Or deliberately put them out. You know what, there is-

Mark: Okay, so there is that.

Howard: Look, there's a lot to be ...

Mark: Come on.

Howard: There is a lot to be wringing our hands over. I'm not saying that the world is perfect. As I've said many times, God forbid there's a major crisis tomorrow, we've got a problem.

Mark: Back to ... I'm sorry, Blake. Go ahead.

Blake: No, what I was going to say is, to the extent that the thematic here is finding your footing, in some ways righting the ship, in some ways recognizing that there is a nature to Washington -- you guys have talked about this, you've written about it -- that you just have to understand its rhythms ... and you can ask anybody. You can go ask Obama. You can go ask Bush. You can go ask Clinton.

You've just go to adhere to its rhythms, and we're starting to see some of that with the president understanding how ... We hear this from every president, how isolating the White House is, how lonely this job is. This president seems to have more of an open-door policy than other presidents, I think, because he likes that communication more. Omarosa has walked in-

Mark: He has fewer people.

Blake: I know.

Mark: Fewer people there.

Howard: Yeah, that's good and bad.

Blake: I do want to talk about agenda-setting-

Howard: That's going to change. Can I just say ... that's going to change.

Blake: You're taking away Omarosa's walk-in-

Howard: I am taking them away. I think, at some point, he's going to bring in somebody that's going to impose order on this White House. It may be in two months. It may be in six months. At some point -- mark my words -- that is going to happen. There's going to be more structure to this thing.

Mark: It will happen in a crisis, and the crisis may well be the fuses that are burning on these investigations. Just to finish the point, if I may, two of the laws of Washington that are still operating are 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation. Yes, there's the reconciliation footnote, but that isn't how they're going to get tax reform done. Howard mentioned it earlier. Watch Chuck Schumer, the 60 votes in the Senate -- 48 Democrats still matter -- and a law of Washington physics is the slow-burning fuse of investigations. Everybody is always investigated for everything.

Howard: Didn't take long.

Mark: Didn't take long. The fuse is slow-burning, but it will blow up at some point. Is it going to be threatening to the administration? Who knows? Maybe it'll be the opposite.

Howard: We're jumping around a bit, but I want to say-

Mark: That's when the new chief of staff comes in.

Howard: I want to say something else about the agencies, Blake, on your question about whether the power is at 1600 or not. I think that's most acute in foreign affairs, this State Department v. White House power battle that takes place in every administration. That's I think where we see that operating most publicly. By and large, the agencies, they go on with their jobs. I think we may see it some more in this administration in places like the EPA.

Mark: Yeah, that's what I was about to say.

Howard: You've got to understand, in the bowels of these agencies, how much happens every minute of every day that's of a highly consequential nature that the public never sees. It's highly consequential to a very small group of people on whatever the given issue is, or sometimes a large group of people, but that doesn't shift. That doesn't move. Tons happens. The longer it takes the administration to staff up, the more control the bureaucracy has in that regard. I think there's a dangerous in overreading the tea leaves as far as the State-White House thing because it's not the dynamic with other agencies.

Blake: I do want to talk about agenda-setting because we talk about Congress being at this point where, look ... Howard, I think you said ... put their head down and go do their job. We're starting to see some of that. Although, Mark, I think anyone who understands the rhythms of Washington knows that tax reform is certainly not happening in the way the secretary says, but it doesn't mean tax reform won't happen, in the same way that we're now seeing that infrastructure, which was a big focus of the campaign from both sides -- we've all talked about that publicly in different forms, and what that might mean -- may get bumped to next year. The administration is not doing anything. People will say, "This administration is not doing stuff."

I want to go back to the role of Trump's base in terms of influencing his agenda because there are really two signature elements that have come out, one which is happening in parts, stops and starts, successes and failures, which is his executive authority approach to immigration. We can start with the Muslim ban, which then has been rescinded. They're reworking. Although, Stephen Miller came out and said, "Look, it's pretty much going to have relatively the same effect. It may be written differently, but this is what we think will happen."

We've now also seen rules putting in place which will accelerate the deportation of illegal immigrants, and the administration is started to hire at a far rapid pace than any other administration border patrol and enforcement officers. Immigration really is a live wire in this administration, which was signature to Trump and part of his base.

The other that we saw was ... Interestingly enough, the first tension among this administration was over the administration's decision to rescind the rules affecting transgendered students, which appeared to have put the attorney general and the Secretary of Education at odds, which is policy intrigue. We care about it. Nobody else does. Nevertheless, Mark, this is the agenda. I wanted to get your reaction to the executive agenda at this point and what it means.

Mark: I think two things. First, the president clearly intends to do by executive order as much of his core agenda as he can. He actually intends to keep his promises from the campaign. Whether it is the wall, or it is the travel ban, or it is the transgender rule, he is going to keep his base happy by the stroke of a pen with order after order after order, which will, to a degree, actually implement those promises a lesser degree, except immigration, than many may think.

Something that Howard always says -- and I at pains here will agree with him -- jobs, jobs, and more jobs. His base ultimately is either going to be satisfied or not depending on their economy, not the markets, not Wall Street, not even the American economy, but on the economy in rural Wisconsin and ...

Blake: Western Pennsylvania.

Mark: ... Western Pennsylvania and ...

Howard: Points in between.

Mark: ... points in between. To be determined. To be determined. That isn't going to be possible with the stroke of a pen.

Blake: Howard, what do you make of that? Tax reform, obviously the secretary sort of alluded to. Look, this a 3% growth plan. Certainly, for there to be jobs, there's got to be some economic growth. We can debate policy all day long, but I think we all know that, on a very generalized scale, if we're going to create jobs, people have got to start small businesses. They've got to feel that entrepreneurial assistance in order to go out and do the kinds of things that they can do, or they've got to find enough opportunity to be able to hire and expand their business, which we can talk all day long about how you ought to do that.

First of all, Howard, do you think, in light of what we're seeing with Trump, that the focus really is on jobs, or is it on his base? Let me that caveat with ... Going back to his press conference, I was fascinated. 34% of people who watched that thought it was great, which, to me, is his base. His base thought it was great. It's easy to, I think, get caught up in some of that. I wanted to get both your reaction to Mark and then how does the executive agenda get shaped over the course over the next couple of months.

Howard: I think his base ... I think there are things like what he did on the transgender issue -- which is pushing it out to the states to decide -- which people, I'm sure, have different views on that. We know they do. That was clearly trying to give something to the cultural base of the party.

His base is jobs. It's the economy. It's immigration and trade. I think there's a lot he can do on trade. Renegotiating NAFTA is certainly on their agenda. There's less he can do to immediately impact the economy. Congress isn't going to pass another stimulus package, but I think they want to get infrastructure done. They want to do tax reform.

I think, as you always say, Mark, the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone. Reforming the Affordable Care Act and tax reform are very closely linked because there's a trillion dollar of taxes in Obamacare. You can't do one without dealing with the other. There's a lot of that to be worked out, but I think he's got people beavering away in the White House that are going to put his plans out, and then there's going to be a giant negotiation. I think their view is, 18 months from now, things are going to look a lot different than they do today, and I think they will.

Blake: With that in mind, we have seen the context I think initially of the Affordable Care Act that they have lost. Mark, you alluded to this earlier. The roles have reversed. We saw the town hall mechanism in the Tea Party really, really show up, as any citizen should, and express their attitudes and opinions about their government to their elected representatives. That is flipped now. We're seeing people who are more opposed, I think is fair, than not to what's going on in Washington showing up and questioning their elected officials.

Last night, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton had a town hall in Northwest Arkansas, which is a Republican haven, has never elected a Democrat to Congress, including beating Bill Clinton in a race, yet people were very vocal about it. We're seeing that all across the country. What do you make of that, Mark, this early in an administration?

Mark: We have to watch and see where it goes. I think it is a continuation of the energy that was unleashed literally by the swearing-in of Donald Trump. We saw the marches the next day, which were enormous. I don't want to get into a Twitter war with the president about whose crowd was larger.

Blake: That's good exposure, Mark.

Mark: That's Howard's job. I don't know how to do it. I think that has continued. I think it has accelerated, in fact. I think the intensity and the energy, to me, are surprising, not that they exist, but that they have burst into such a public forum. Whether it is sustainable and whether it is translatable into electoral success, way too soon to know. My hunch is that this is not going to stop.

Howard: I don't think it's a bad thing, but I think it's missing something, which is what they want. You can't just always be against something. It's not going to serve the Democrats or the left well to be just against Trump for four years. It didn't serve them well in the election. It didn't serve Hillary Clinton well in the election to run against somebody as opposed to for something. What do they want? What are you looking-

Blake: It did help Republicans, though, to be fair-

Howard: No.

Blake: It did help the Republicans ...

Howard: No.

Blake: ... to be against Obama, don't you think?

Howard: The Tea Party had a message, fiscal conservatism.

Blake: No, no, I get that. I get that, but I guess I'm hearkening back to ... and not to-

Howard: To Mitch McConnell?

Blake: Yeah, to Mitch McConnell. That's where I'm going. I think, to be fair ... I was living in Arkansas at the time. It was real. Just to give you a context, you're looking at a Democratic majority when Obama takes office, 75-25 in the State House, all constitutional as Democrats. Senate, a vast number of Democrats had never actually had a proper control of the state legislature, which is the last state in the union for that to be true. Obama comes in, and the anti-Obama message turns that upside down. I'm not arguing with you. I'm just saying that, to be fair, it was pretty effective from my point of view.

Mark: I disagree with your analysis of the Tea Party movement. Yes, they had a message, fiscal conservatism, but all they could do was stop stuff from happening because it was the same situation, a Democratic president. You had a Democratic House. You had a Democratic Senate. The Tea Party exploded around healthcare in an effort to shut down the Affordable Care Act. Now, it failed in that particular, but then in the subsequent midterms in 2010 they had astonishing success.

Howard: But in that-

Mark: We need to have astonishing success.

Howard: In that, they arrived at a message, which was-

Mark: That's why I say you have to see where this goes. I personally am not in favor of the McConnell scorched-earth obstruction strategy. That is what the-

Howard: They don't have the power to do that now.

Blake: Right. Let's talk about that because I think we will all agree that there is soul-searching going on in the Democratic Party to try and ... What do you do? We saw this after the women's march, right? Not everybody is there for the same purpose. Not everybody is showing up at these town halls ... These aren't anti-Affordable Care Act town halls anymore. There are lots of different viewpoints and other things there-

Mark: Actually pro-Affordable Care Act town halls.

Blake: Sorry, yeah. Right. Exactly. This is a big week in Washington. CPAC just kicked off. We've got all the governors coming to town this week. On Saturday, while it's not in Washington, but it has very much an effect on Washington, the Democratic National Committee is going to elect a new chairman, which in some ways will ... Mark, you tell me if you agree with this ... will begin to provide some sort of structure to how a message might come together. I thought we might just talk a little bit about ... a little more inside baseball, but I thought we might just touch on that race a little bit.

Mark: I think the race is important because we Democrats are out of power. The DNC and the chair are less important when the president is a Democrat, and certainly when Congress also is. Now you have Chuck Schumer, by default, as the president of the Democrats, and the DNC and the DNC chair will matter. Yes, I think it is an important election for the Democrats. I am hoping that Ralph Ellison is not the chair of the DNC. I'm personally in favor of the mayor of South Bend, although I'm having trouble pronouncing his last name.

Blake: I was going to ask you to do that, have that conversation as well.

Mark: I believe, but let's see what comes from that.

Howard: I think there's a huge message in who is selected. If it's Ellison, that's one message. If it's the mayor of a small town in Indiana, that's another message. I don't think it matters beyond that. I don't think who the chair of the party is ... No one knows or cares outside the Beltway.

By the way, all these conversations going on inside the Beltway ... Look who the president of the United States is, somebody who barely stepped inside the Beltway before assuming the office. The people of this country don't know or care what the governors are sitting there talking to themselves about in Washington, what people at CPAC are talking to themselves ... That's my view.

Washington needs to wake up to what's going on out in their districts, to getting some stuff done that impact people's lives, to tax reform and infrastructure reform, and reform of the Affordable Care Act. That's the stuff that people care about, not people talking to themselves in some echo chamber in DC.

Blake: We don't have as much time today to get into it, but I do think it's a worthwhile conversation to have. I think governors are uniquely situated here, in the same way that we saw in the last administration attorneys general are uniquely situated here because, Howard, I think you're exactly right in that we are looking at the states. The states not only are mechanisms for ...

If you are a true states-rights Republican, the states are naturally going to have more opportunity. If you are a Democrat looking to oppose this administration in some form or fashion, the states have unique opportunities, as we saw with Minnesota and Washington stepping up on the president's executive order. I think the states present an interesting dynamic, and I think we ought to talk about it. I made note of the governors coming to town, number one, because they're all coming to town, and I do think they are trying to figure out, "Okay, look, an infrastructure bill helps me." I just-

Howard: I just threw them into the mix because it sounded good. Look, a lot of the Trump administration's agenda is to push stuff out to the states. It is to return power to the states. What they did on the transgender policy memo was to push it out to the states, so the governors matter a lot.

By the way, the gubernatorial elections in 2018 are the flip side of the Senate elections. In the Senate, you've got 26 out of 33 or 34 seats that are up are Democrats. In the gubernatorial races, it's the reverse. It's all the Republicans that are up. They matter a lot. Right now, there's a lot of Republican control, so that is one of the consequential policy points.

Blake: Again, I look forward to more discussion about the governors because that's an interesting constituency, and some that we're intimately involved with. I want to talk about that for the benefit of our clients and listeners, as well.

I would be remiss if I did not get to the comments and questions from today, one of which is not substantive, but I think very important to this particular person, which is he wants to talk about Trump's vacationing practices and the impact of Trump's vacationing practices on both the federal budget and the optics of the president leaving every weekend, going to Mar-a-Lago, expending all that money. He's already spent-

Howard: That's a lot of money.

Blake: He's already spent in a month what Obama spends in a year. It looks like he'll spend in a year more than the entire budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. Does it matter? What do you think?

Mark: It's not that ... I don't think it's that important.

Blake: Oh good, I-

Mark: It will matter cumulatively. All of this will add up and pile up, and people will form an impression of the Trump presidency. With everything going on, I have a hard time getting that excited about that part of it. I was hoping the question was going to be about the seven new planets.

Blake: We're coming to that. Don't hijack my questioning to get to that.

Mark: All right.

Blake: Howard, what do you think?

Howard: He did say, I think, that he wasn't going to play a lot of golf. That's one campaign pledge he hasn't kept. By the way, I'm all for playing as much golf as one can possibly play.

Mark: It's got to be the season.

Howard: I think it does matter as a fiscal issue. There's a price tag attached to it. The voters will decide that in three years. As far as not being in DC, who cares? He's the president. He's always on the job. It's healthy and better to get out.

Mark: ... or not.

Howard: No, always. Mark-

Mark: He's always on the job to the degree he's on the job.

Howard: Mark, there's a lot not to like. He's the president of the United States, though. He's surrounded by people taking meetings 24/7. He's always on the job. Don't confuse the-

Mark: That is not what his calendar has said in recent days, but that also isn't the core issue with this administration. He's working hard enough.

Blake: With that in mind, speaking of working hard enough, the president is going to give his first address to a joint session of Congress next week. As we have seen with this president, dare we predict what will happen? It's certainly a momentous moment for him, walking into the chamber, I would expect, and delivering that address. We're going to come back. We'll have a call next week. We can talk about it day of. If you're the president, Mark, what are you talking about?

Mark: If you're this president, you talk about your historically large ...

Howard: God, I hope not.

Mark: ... election.

Howard: God, I hope not.

Mark: Yeah, you talk about the Electoral College and getting more votes than all the prior candidates in history combined. If we look at what the man has chosen to talk about in his public appearances, including at the CIA Wall of Honor, and including at the African-American Museum, he's going to talk about how he won. I think there's a lot more he could do to advance the country and his administration. I'm done predicting what this guy is going to say.

Howard: I think his speeches have been trending in a more presidential direction. They're more scripted, speaking off the teleprompter, less off-the-cuff certainly than we saw in the early days of the campaign, really through the whole campaign. I think we're going to see something that's ... We're going to see a speech, not extemporaneous remarks. God, I hope he doesn't start talking about the crowd size.

Mark: We sat here; Blake asked us that question before his inaugural address. Both of us said it's an opportunity for the president to unite the country after a divisive election, and he stood up there and pledged an end to the American carnage that his predecessor had caused. Yes, it will be a teleprompter speech.

Howard: We'll see.

Mark: We'll see. We'll see.

Blake: We will see, and we'll be back next week to talk about it. As always, a fun and interesting discussion. This administration provides a whole lot to talk about. As we get more into the policy, we'll certainly be here to examine it and talk about what it means. Mark, Howard, thanks for joining us. Thanks to everybody ...

Howard: Thanks, Blake.

Blake: ... for joining our call, and we look forward to talking to you next week.

Speaker 4: Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude the conference call for today. We thank you for your participation and ask that you please disconnect your line.


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