Blake Rutherford, Howard Schweitzer, and Kevin Washo, of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies, discuss the Inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President.
Jose: Good afternoon. My name is Jose and I will be your conference operator today. Welcome to Cozen O'Connor Public Strategy series about the latest developments in politics and policy in D.C. Our call today will be moderated by Blake Rutherford, a member of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies. Our speakers are Howard Schweitzer, Managing Partner, and Kevin Washo, a member of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies.
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Blake: Thanks, everybody. Thanks for joining us. My name is Blake Rutherford. I'm joined by Howard Schweitzer, the managing partner of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies, and a new addition to our calls, Kevin Washo, who joined our group not long ago after serving admirably as the executive director of the host committee for the Democratic National Convention here in Philadelphia. Howard, Kevin, welcome.
Howard: Thanks, Blake.
Kevin: Thank you.
Blake: Boy, we've got more to talk about than we have time to talk about today. Let's turn back just a little bit to what to me feels like a very long time ago, and yet was only four days ago, five days ago, which is the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump and the speech that followed. We had previewed that speech in a call the week before and I think our collective preview was, in my estimation, just a little bit off. Trump was less of ... Well, I'll say it this way and then I'll get your perspective. This was not a grand speech. This was a base political speech. In the context of inaugural addresses, we really haven't seen something like that before.
Let's start there because Trump came into office with the lowest approval ratings in American history, since we starting polling president-elects. His approval rating's under 50%. Before the inaugural speech, he had an approval rating under 40%. He's at about 45%, according to Gallup, although that's changing by the minute.
Howard, I want to start with you. A lot was made of the speech. What did you think? Did it accomplish anything for the president and does it really matter?
Howard: I think it does matter in the sense that rhetoric from the president of the United States means something. It mean something to people. It sets the tone and the mood of the country. I personally think it was a lost opportunity. On the flip side, he spent a lot of time on things like infrastructure, which are not necessarily Republican priorities in the traditional sense. From a policy point of view, I think, it wasn't as divisive as people are making it seem. From a rhetorical point of view, it was not a uniting kind of speech. I do think it matters. I said on our last call it will set the tone for the next four years and he set the tone for the next four years.
Blake: Boy, it's going to be a slug fest, if that's right. Because, Kevin, as we saw, not moments after that, but within 24 hours, massive protests in response to President Trump's inauguration. Half a million people in Washington. Half a million people in Chicago. 300,000 in Boston. We can go on and on and on. 5,000 in Little Rock, Arkansas. More people showed up in Montpelier, Vermont, to protest than live in Montpelier, Vermont. We've never seen anything like that.
I thought it might be helpful to contrast. First, I want to get your reaction to the speech, and then to contrast that 24-hour period. Because symbolically it says something and it is clearly under the president's skin.
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. I think Howard is right. Clearly, a missed opportunity. I think when you grow up as a kid, you're in high school, or even when you're an adult, you see a presidential address, you think of John Kennedy's speech and Ronald Reagan. It's an opportunity for the president to address the tone and the mood of uniting the country. You didn't have that. I think there's very few opportunities, even for a president, to change the narrative on what's been building up over the last few years. I think he had a clear one there and I think, to your point, if you look at just 24 hours later, it couldn't be more of a difference. I mean all over the country-
Blake: All over the world.
Kevin: All over the world, really, millions of people were marching and I think for the president - I'm surprised if people aren't giving him this advice - if he gave a little bit more, you would think maybe the narrative and the tone could be tampered down a little bit. Because I think in the end, you would think he's a pragmatic guy. Being a business man, he's going to want to see results. I think it's going to be hard with this tone to get anything done. It just really shows you how divided this country is on party lines and ideological lines. When is it going to end? That's something that only the leaders are going to be able to answer, I think.
Blake: Perhaps not anytime soon, but in terms of getting things done, Howard, we are seeing action from this president. Not unexpected in the context of executive orders, but so far today, we've seen an executive order - albeit a little bit of an ambiguous one - on the Affordable Care Act. We've seen an executive order pulling out of TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but authorizing the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access. We've seen a federal hiring freeze. A regulatory freeze, which you have been talking about for months, would come down the pipe. Then to social conservatives, reinstituting what's known as the global gag rule, which is not supporting international organizations who fund abortions.
That's where we are as of literally this call. By this afternoon, we may see even more. Howard, I thought you might, in context, characterize what you make of those early actions. Certainly playing to his core constituency to a degree, which his speech did. What do you think about that and what do you make of, for example, what does a federal hiring freeze really mean in the context of what's happening?
Howard: Yeah. I mean, again, you've got to think about this the way you think about any new administration on some level. I think one general comment I have is that people are over-reading and over-interpreting the early days of this administration. The rhetoric around the march wasn't great. I'd like to go back to that if I could for a second.
The switch from campaigning to governing is a challenge for any administration. I've seen it time and time again. That's true for this administration as well. I think, in many ways, I see the response to the march and the issuance of these various memoranda and executive orders in that context, in the same context. In that campaigning-to-governing pivot, that was really hard for Barack Obama's crowd eight years ago. I was there. Really hard for George W. Bush's group. I was there. It's hard to do and it's hard for these guys to do.
In my mind, the march, the response, the nonsensical response to the march, was a campaign play. It was what we've seen throughout the campaign, which is a distraction. Sean Spicer didn't go out to the podium and say what he said because they really believed it. Obviously, they know the truth. It was about creating another narrative. It was about creating a controversy so that the next day people would be talking about the controversy as opposed to talking about the march. That's my view. That's my strong view.
Everybody, or a lot of people, have seen the Chuck Todd/Kelly Conway interview, where the alternative facts thing came up. Guess what he didn't talk about in those 10 minutes. They didn't talk about the march, really. They talked about alternative facts. That's what these guys wanted. That's the play they ran throughout the campaign. They ran it again on Saturday.
Similarly, I think the series of things, to your question - finally get to your question, Blake - the series of orders and memoranda that have been issued are in the same vein. They're fulfilling campaign promises, so to speak. Everybody knew the DP order was coming. Everybody the Dakota and Keystone order was coming. The hiring freeze was coming. The regulatory freeze was coming.
Again, if you actually go and read the memoranda, as opposed to reading the headlines, the devil's in the details. The hiring freeze, yes. There's a hiring freeze. The director of the Office of Personnel Management can issue a waiver from the hiring freeze. OMB, the Office of Management and Budget, has to issue a plan within 90 days on shrinking the federal government through attrition. Slowly, this all comes off.
What happens in Washington - and it happens every single time, and it's going to happen here, too - is the heads of these agencies get in their jobs, they start to realize what they need, and they pushback on the White House, and they get what they want. Yes, government is going to be smaller under this administration, but it's going to work. Don't make the mistake of thinking that it's not going to revert to some of the traditional laws of nature that we see in D.C. We are in the midst of a shift that's going to be harder for these guys than it is for others from campaign mode, to governing, and that's the way to look at this administration.
Blake: Well, and I think, too, you put out today - and hopefully everybody on this call has seen it, but if not, we'll be sure to get it to you - tips for how to engage with this administration and what it really looks like. I think in some ways, you've thrown conventional wisdom in terms of - I mean that as a compliment, obviously - for how people look at Trump. I think that this is, and you conclude among your list, that this is more of a motion picture than a portrait, meant clearly to articulate this is unlike anything we've ever seen, which certainly requires a different way of thinking. I hope everyone will check that out and certainly we can talk more about it.
Kevin, I want to follow up on something Howard says, which is this administration is very much in campaign mode still. They're employing tactics that they used during the campaign. While it may be right that it's difficult for every administration to get out of campaign mode, one of the things we may see from this president ... Because there has been such an obsession with what I call the optics. It started with losing three million votes and he goes to members of Congress and tells another lie about illegal immigrants being the reason why he fell three million votes shy, which we absolutely know is not true. He said it again to members of Congress. Then we saw Sean Spicer coming out and blatantly lying to the press. Trump has had some trouble with the truth during the course of this campaign.
We're hearing stories that there's already lots of infighting among this White House, that one of the things that Trump was really disappointed about with Spicer was that his suit didn't fit. If you noticed him yesterday, he was in a darker, tailored suit. According to the Washington Post, that was one of the big issues.
Do you sense that Trump, having watching him ... We've been able to study him as a candidate for almost two years. Howard has said this many times: you wait for the pivot. Mark said it: you wait for the pivot. The pivot never comes. We're not seeing it yet.
Kevin: I think it's hard. One of the things that I had a chance to do is I read his book, The Art of the Deal, way back in May of 2016 just to get a little insight and just to see what he's about. I think it's going to be hard.
You mentioned optics. I mean everyone has the visual of him coming down the escalator of Trump Tower. Well, he just tweeted out 20 minutes ago the cutaway shot of the crowd size at his inauguration. Clearly, he's still obsessed with that. It's hard to move on. I think presidents need to learn how to move on and make some decisions and put the past behind them. I think as a person this is not something that he's not able to do very well.
I think to Howard's point, clearly the Spicer issue was to get off message and Kellyanne Conway. No one's really talking about the marches. I just think it's going to be like moving a boulder with him trying to pivot. I think he's going to have a real tough time when it's not an executive order by the signing of a pen. You want an infrastructure bill. What are you going to do to get that infrastructure bill passed? How are you going to work with Democrats across the aisle, or Republicans for that matter, who may not want to spend the type of money the president wants to spend?
I thought it was interesting. We talk about campaign mode. Clearly, we're only within the first week, but when he was talking about TPP the other day, in the morning he had business executives and CEOs come to the White House. Then within the span of two hours, he had pretty much, not all the heads, but a good chunk of the heads of all the presidents of organized labor come to the White House. Obviously, they were thrilled about it, but you think about it. Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio - sure, playing to the campaign. I thought it was a pretty shrewd move. We all knew it was coming, but I think he's going to be shrewd about some of this stuff.
Blake: Yeah, Howard?
Howard: Just to piggyback on that. There's a battle going on. There is a battle going on. There's infighting. By-the-way, "infighting" is healthy. There needs to be disagreement. That's how the best decisions get made. The best decisions that I was a party to in government took place amidst disagreement. Then at the end of the day, the principle has to make the call. Trump being the principle, at least for purposes of some issues, is going to have to make calls and people, I'm sure, have strong views of that on both sides, positive and negative. Disagreement is healthy. All you have to do is look at his Twitter feed, which I'm doing through my @whatthetrump-
Howard: @whatthetrump Twitter handle. Back on the women's marches, first there was a tweet from him about the marches and, "Don't these people realize that there was election?" Shortly thereafter, there was a tweet about the peaceful demonstration of the importance of that through our democracy. Clearly the first one was written by him and clearly the second one was crafted by other people in the White House. If you want to focus on where the disagreement lies, look at that because whoever wins that battle at the end of the day, that's going to chart the course for this administration.
Blake: Well, it's interesting because we are seeing some of this play out. We saw with the inaugural speech where it was really the ban-and-faction driven. Looks like he was the primary author of that speech, along with Trump's long-time speechwriter. Then you saw the Spicer thing and that press conference where it was very clear that Trump was, based on all the news reports, really the largest instigator, in there were many of these factions in the White House saying, "Don't do this." Then to Howard's point about tweets in the march and now. Again, the president being very much focused on crowd size. He was focused on crowd size when he spoke in front of the wall at the CIA and again today.
I wonder whether we will see - and I'm interested in both of your perspectives on this - whether we will see in the days ahead a calming effect. Or in light of the fact - and one of the things that, Howard, you talked about over the course of the last several months and have written about this - "Look, there is a White House press corps now and they are relentless." I think Sean Spicer in his press conference yesterday said pointing out the crowd size was demoralizing. They think he said demoralizing three times. The White House press corps is an aggressive entity. They're going to be on the president, just as they have been on every president.
What do you sense? I want to go back to this calming effect. You sense things calm down or are we in for four years of hold on tight?
Howard: We're definitely in for six months of hold on tight. Because again, I think this shift is really hard and it's even harder for a bunch of people that have never been in government before, of which there are many in this administration from the top on down through the cabinet.
I think eventually the laws of nature take over. They have to get some stuff done. I think things do begin to calm down, but it's going to be rocky at the beginning and this guy, the president, attracts attention like nobody else we've ever seen before. That's going to continue. It's 24/7, 365, and it's bigger than anything we've seen before because although it's the White House, although it's the president, although he's the leader of the free world, this is Donald Trump and it's just different.
Blake: I want to come back to that different, because I really want to talk about how you engage. We've all been writing and speaking about what this means and I want to come back to the piece that you put out today, Howard, but before we do that, Kevin, the president is coming to Philly this week. He's going to speak to a retreat of House and Senate Republicans who are going to be thinking about their agenda. The president's already been briefed by the Speaker about the calendar and beginning the priority setting and the coordination of agenda. Just wanted to get your thoughts about that. Peyton Manning is also speaking at that event. I know how big of a fan Howard is of Peyton Manning.
Howard: I'm a bigger fan of his brother.
Blake: Yeah, right. The president is coming to Philadelphia. Granted, he's coming because of another meeting, but a city he did not win in a state that he did win, but performed better than the Democrats. You had a front-row seat to all of that. Just wanted to get some perspective of what you think that means for the city.
Kevin: Yeah, I think any time a president comes to the city, it's good. Obviously, I think first for the city, it's great that we're hosting the Republican conference. Howard and I, we were talking about this last year, we hosted the Democratic conference. I think it was about a year before the convention. Just from a civic standpoint, it's good when we can have thought leaders and government leaders come to Philly and experience our great city.
Listen, I think it's fantastic that he's going to be here representing his party. I think it was good politics for him to go. I'm actually curious to see what his tone is in front of the conference. Because clearly there's a lot of people in that conference that do not agree with him on a vast arrange of things, whether it be temperament, whether it be policy - the whole shebang.
I'll be curious to see can he temper his tone in front of this group? I think if he can't do it in front of this group, he's going to have real trouble tempering in front of any other group. I think it's going to be an interesting push or pull.
I think by every stretch, we were talking about before, you talk to any big-city mayor or small-city mayor in the country, talk to any governor who's had to come and switch from campaign to governing, it is a slog. To think about everything he has to do to pivot now - White House press corp, bureaucracy, a party that's probably fractured on his own side and trying to figure out how to deal with their own president, the Democrats and progressives that are entrenched - I don't want to say it's insurmountable, but I can't think of a case study where someone's had so much going against him this early on in a presidency, where it's going to take a vast political test of skill to get done. It's just going to be fascinating from an academic standpoint. Can someone pivot and move the country in a direction where everyone's toned down a little bit? I don't know.
Howard: By-the-way, just on the press, I think the press has got to grow up, too. Look, Chuck Todd was tough in his interview with Kellyanne, but he took the bait. He was complicit because, guess what, it's actually good for ratings if there's controversy. He was complicit in making that interview all about the controversy as opposed to the thing that they created the controversy to distract from. Part of this is on the press, the White House press corps, and the press at large not to take the bait, to keep the eyes focused on what the administration is trying to distract attention from.
By-the-way, this isn't the first administration to put something out to try to distract or take attention away from something else that's going on in the world. They've done that time and time again. The press has an incredibly, I think, more valuable role to play right now than we've ever seen. They've got to do it right.
Kevin: Yeah, just to piggyback on that, I was watching some of the clips from CNN following the Spicer presser, and I listened to every bit of it. It was actually fascinating. I don't know if it was David Gregory, or somebody from CNN made a point. He goes, "This administration is changing even the way the press briefings are. Usually the AP gets the first question." Well, the AP didn't get the first question this time. It was the New York Post. Then all of a sudden, CNN didn't get a question until the very end. I don't think the New York Times even got a question. Listen, it was tradition, but he's going to do things differently. Clearly, they have some vendettas and some hard luck.
I think to Howard's point, the press are going to have to get a thicker skin and buck up a little bit and realize they have a duty to the country to be a little bit more tough, but they need to not be so sensitive, I think. Even then, they were commenting on who's getting the first question. Now, do the American people really care who gets the first question? Absolutely not. Again, the media's creating this firestorm, "Well, New York Post got the first question and not CNN or Fox." It's crazy. I think they've got to step it up a little bit.
Blake: In the context of doing things differently, you have to engage different with this administration than with others. I want to go back to something we talked a little bit about at the beginning, but the piece you put out today about ways to engage with this administration, 11 rules, I think, you have. I thought I might just turn it over to you to talk about highlights. What are the things that people really need to be thinking about as they try to engage with this administration?
Howard: Yeah, let's talk through them. Number one is you really have to listen carefully. Kevin and Blake, jump in on this. You've got to listen carefully to Trump's message. He's the president of the United States. He is the dominant force in Washington. He's not the only force in Washington. He's not even the only force within the Republican Party, but he's the dominant force. You've got to listen very carefully to the themes and the messages he's putting out. Whatever your cause is, try where you can - and you're not going to be able to do it all the time - but try to wrap your message in the context, try to wrap your cause in the context of his messages.
Point number two: understand the process and procedure around your issue, around what you're trying to do. Because process, even though Trump is very transactional and just a different kind of a guy than we're used to in the presidency, process still matters a lot in Washington. Policy, politics, and process. Other people know the process a lot better than the president does and his team does. That process can really be your ally.
Don't expect - and, Kevin, you've seen this and, Blake, you've seen it - don't expect miracles and don't over-read the first people into the agencies, even the first people into the White House. There's going to be turnover and the "beachhead teams" that deploy to the agencies at 12:01 p.m. on the 20th, yeah, they're important for now. They're junior folks. They tend to be campaign folks. This is true in any administration. They get deployed into the agencies, but then the secretaries come in and the political people in the agencies become less important over time. The substance of the agencies takes over. Don't get too invested or, again, over-read the importance of the people that are first in.
A lot of people have concerns about the administration from the perspective of unpredictability. There are points of stability in the administration. Think about someone like Elaine Chao at Transportation. She has been in government. She is married to the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. She is a point of stability in this administration. General Mattis at DOD is a point of stability in this administration. General Kelly at Homeland Security, a point of stability in this administration. A Wilbur Ross at Commerce [inaudible 00:28:14] government. Obviously a force as a business person, obviously somebody who can pick up the phone and call the president. Not as much of a point of stability if you're looking for calming influences inside the Cabinet.
Also, don't forget about the bureaucracy. Guys, jump in on this. The bureaucracy is always powerful. Right now, everybody I know, most people I know inside the bureaucracy, they're scared. They're wary. They're concerned about what Trump means for them. Four or five months from now, the laws of nature take over. Things normalize. They realize that they're still the bureaucracy. They're still career appointees. They're up an important power point.
Kevin: Yeah, just to jump in, Howard. I was lucky enough to do this in year two of the Obama Administration as a liaison. You're absolutely right. Once things settle down in the first couple weeks, I went in year two, and everyone's making a big deal about all these political slots not being filled and these committees aren't being filled. It takes a long time to really get these undersecretaries filled. Because remember, a lot of these positions have to be confirmed by the Senate, so it's going to take some time. I think you're right. The bureaucracy is going to be key.
Remember one thing. For these agencies to change a lot of these regulations, and Howard you probably know this just as well as anyone, they have to go through a little process through the OMB, which everyone knows that is like moving mountains. I think a lot of this can't be changed with a stroke of a pen. There's going to be people that are going to be filling these slots that are very dedicated in their craft, whether you agree with them politically or not. There's going to be things that will be changed, but it's going to be a process that's going to take some time. I think using that process, not everything happens in the West Wing. Even if things want to happen in the West Wing, there's so many things that have to go into getting a change that it's, to your point, the process still matters no matter who the president is because you can't control something of this magnitude.
Howard: Yeah, most things don't happen in the West Wing, I would even say.
Kevin: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Howard: The other thing, guys, is I think people are over-stating the extent to which Donald Trump is a Republican. He's a Democrat. He's an Independent. He's whatever he is on any given issue. He's not an ideologue. That's for darn sure. He has very little in common with Mitch McConnell. He has more in common with Paul Ryan, perhaps, though not a lot of the House Republicans, who themselves don't have much in common with their Speaker. It's not all one Republican Party. I think you cannot fall into the trap of thinking about Washington as being dominated by the Republicans because it's not all one Republican Party.
Along those same lines, Trump has more in common with Chuck Schumer than he does with Mitch McConnell. He's going to be more comfortable sitting down for a conversation with Chuck than he is with Mitch. It doesn't mean that he won't have good engagement with the Senate Republicans, but that's just they're two guys from New York City. The Senate Democrats are going to be a powerful force and Trump is going to work with them, so don't underestimate the power of the Senate Democrats. Along the lines of what I was just saying, well, Kevin, you may want to jump in on the Democratic points since you know these guys.
Kevin: No, I think that's right. I think it's probably one of the few checks that we're going to have on the administration. I think it's interesting, you've already seen some of the TPP, some of the senators that are pro this, they're coming out and saying, "Hey, we're supportive of what the president is doing." I'm actually curious to see how that actually plays. He came out and did a press conference supporting this: "I wonder if I can make a deal with them." I think in the end, to your point, it's all deals. His whole career is about deals.
Howard: Yes. Transactional.
Kevin: I think you hit the nail on the head on those points.
Howard: Then don't overestimate his willingness to buck the House Republicans. I think there are plenty of issues on which he's not going to play to the conservative. I think every time I turn on CNN and here people talking about him like he's a conservative, I laugh. It's absurd. He's not a conservative. He may be mixing in some conservative points or appointments, but he is not a conservative. He'll buck the House Republicans where he needs to.
I think really, really importantly - and this is something, again, I think the press, I think the D's, I think a lot of people need to really think hard about - is not trying to out-Trump Trump. I think we talked about this last week with the whole John Lewis thing, Congressman Lewis. I think if you try to out-Trump Trump, if you try to play his game, he's going to win. He's better at it. He's been doing it his whole life. He may be many things, but he's a master of manipulation. You're not going to beat him trying to take him on that way.
I think if you need to take on the administration, don't do the full-frontal assault. Take them from their flank. You have to be crafty. You have to use the process. Look, I think there are many traditionally "left" ideas where you're going to be able to work with the administration. Where you have to take them on, just be very, very strategic about it because if you try to get in their faces, you're going to lose. Engage, which is kind of a thesis for this whole thing.
Kevin: Actually, I think everything on the list is very good, but this is the one that hit me the most just because I think you're right. I think, especially with people that may be on the left, or progressive, or maybe right of center that just don't like his style, you just can't be afraid to engage. I think if you are psyched out right out of the gates, you're now going to be doing yourself a disservice.
Not to digress, but I talked to a lot of former colleagues of mine, both on the campaign and in government who said, "I just can't watch this speech. I just can't stomach it." Well, the facts are there'll be a time to protest, but I think any smart business person or any smart policymaker is going to want to figure out the best angle to get what they want. The best way to get what you want is to figure out strategically how to do it.
I think to your point, that weighs an engagement strategy as much as opposed to going toe-to-toe. There'll be some things you have to, but I think the engagement piece is something that I think progressives especially, or people that may be on the other side of the aisle, they're not going to be able to stomach it. To be pragmatic about it, it's the best way to do it and play to the ego and not play to the combative nature of the president or his team.
Howard: Trump is going to be more approachable and more willing to do deals than President Obama. President Obama - we talked about this last week - history's going to I think reflect well on his tenure, particularly given the backdrop in which he had to do his job, but he wasn't that approachable on a personal level. He didn't reach out, certainly not across the aisle, and even on his side of the aisle the way that a Bill Clinton did, Blake, or a Ronald Reagan did. Obviously, famously with Tip O'Neill. Trump is going to be more of that kind of guy, I think. He's going to be more approachable and he's certainly more transactional. I mean, his whole career is about, his whole life is about transactions. There's business to be done with this administration.
I would just repeat something I said earlier, which is rule number 11: don't over-learn the lessons of the election. Don't place too much stock in what you're seeing in the early days. Yes, rhetorically it's important, but we're going to see, hopefully once these guys get their footing, I think a different kind of administration emerge than we've seen in the past. One that is post-partisan in a sense, cuts along different lines ideologically.
The last point is - this is just more of a personal reflection than anything - they're going to be tested. They're going to be tested by some crisis that, sitting here today, we can't anticipate. Hopefully, they'll have some time to get their footing before they're tested by that crisis. It's not the only thing that matters, but it matters a lot how they deal with whatever those crises are.
Whether you were for him or against him, whether you love him or you hate him, we need him to be able to ... That's why the engagement's so important. You need to get that diversity of perspectives. You can't assume that they're just against you on everything. Because having those different perspectives when that crisis hits is what probably makes or breaks their success in dealing with it at the end of the day.
Blake: We're beginning to see, too, real opportunities to engage from a business perspective. President Trump has named the new chairman to the FCC, who is opposed to net neutrality. That is going to be a huge business issue that is going to affect a wide range of industry. We're now beginning to see movement at the FCC. You've got an opportunity to begin thinking about that strategic engagement.
The Democrats have put out a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. By no means will it be considered on the whole, but it is a beginning of a discussion about how to go about repairing the nation's infrastructure. Trump has some very unique and different ideas, including privatizing transportation projects and finding ways to make them each turn a profit, which is something Republicans like, Democrats really don't. Trump's looking at it from an investor lens, which we have never had someone look at infrastructure development from that way.
Whether you want to drill down and get into something very specific like transportation, roadway transportation, toll development, bridge repair - there's a real interesting conversation starting to take place in Washington. I think we've seen the Democrats put forward ideas, I think in part to bring Trump into the discussion, to not let him get pulled away on other issues. They want infrastructure to get done.
I think to both of your points, we think that's something that can get done. Does it get done absent a concession, for example, say to a Paul Ryan tax reform plan? Who knows? That's going to draw in a Republican issue that's going to compel. There's going to be relationships to all this stuff. There is a real opportunity, I think, now for business who cares about this stuff to develop some eyes and ears on the Hill and some eyes and ears in the administration. Because these conversations are taking place, even if they're not driving the kind of headlines his executive orders are driving and that all this other, what we might call, political noise is driving.
Kevin: I think the infrastructure point is probably the best one. You think about it. Back in 2009 with the stimulus, a lot of Democrats argued that the stimulus was too small. They wanted more money to go in for infrastructure. Now we're at the point where we have a president that really believes in infrastructure who, let's be honest, he's been a builder of things for the last 40 years.
I think how that all gets played out is actually a real opportunity for the president, just from a practical point of view, to see where he can take the country. Take away the tweets. Take away the bravado. Take away the protesting from the left. This is something very real that he can get done and, quite frankly, something the Democrats have been saying for a long time that they want more of. It will be interesting to see if the president could triangulate with the Democrats and work, to your point, with Paul Ryan to come up with some things.
By-the-way, people want consensus, right? Every family, you have to negotiate. Every business, you have to come to some type of consensus. In government, I think it's a lost art. Can they come up with some kind of consensus, something for them, something for the other side? If they can get something done, and hopefully if some infrastructure gets done, we can get new bathrooms at Penn Station and 30th Street, and we'd all be a lot happier.
I think it's a real opportunity to test the president's and the president team's political skill. If they could just tone it down for a couple months, I'd be fascinated to see if that's something they can do because I think it's a real opportunity. You go to any big-city mayor in the country, they want infrastructure. Go to every governor, they want more money for infrastructure. Go to any township, they need water-treatment facilities. I mean, this is something that the country needs badly. Could this guy get it done? It's going to be a test of his skill and I think if he's smart, they'll figure out how to do it.
Howard: They need to get it done because it's their jobs program. This is Bannon driving this. Look, the economy is, yes, there's underemployment. Yes, there are people out of the workforce. Wages are finally moving. We're very near what, I think, a lot of economists would deem very, very healthy employment, almost to the point of full employment. A lot of people would react negatively to the statement I just made, but again, from an economist's point of view, a 4.7% unemployment rate is very healthy. These guys need to find a way to create more jobs. They need this.
Blake: Right. Look, industry's going to play a role in shaping that. I think if you are in the business of growing your business, there is going to be stimulus - such an out-of-favor term - but there is going to be an infusion of some kind into the American economy. I think, Kevin, you noted this earlier, him sitting down with business executives and talking about scaling back 75% of the regulations so that they keep jobs at home is perhaps the first foray of a deal. "I'll do my part, you do your part. Oh, by-the-way, let's go build some stuff together and create more jobs."
You can see, as Howard said multiple times during this call, a transaction beginning to take place and then bringing organized labor in, who is certainly on the president's side of TPP and on the president's side as it pertains to NAFTA. You can begin to see some of this Art of the Deal come together. I think this infrastructure piece, to the point of it is politically potent because it is the job creations mechanism ... There's a story, front page of the New York Times today, that in essence they are even in agreement inside the Trump White House that this is all about jobs. This is all about jobs. It will be interesting to see.
Guys, look, I think we have had an interesting first handful of days to this administration. A lot going on. A lot to talk about. Howard, great piece: "11 Rules of the Road." We'll blast that out to everybody who participated in the call today. As always, comments and questions are welcome. Presidentialanalysis@cozen.com. Kevin, great to have you-
Kevin: Oh, thanks. Good to be here.
Blake: On the call today and certainly great to have you at Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies.
Kevin: I think Mark should get stuck on icy planes in Albany more often.
Blake: Right. Mark has not gone to join the Trump Administration, like our colleague, Jim Schultz, who we should also recognize. That was made public over the weekend. Jim has participated in these calls before and led our state regulatory practice here. Is now Associate White House Counsel and Special Assistant to the President. Mark is in Albany, which I'm told is in New York. They had something to do with ice or maybe ice is an explanation of something else.
Howard: Mark was visiting our Albany office.
Blake: Yep. Hope he gets home safe. Tough weather out there, certainly. Thanks everybody who called in. We'll get information out about our next call. Certainly, never a dull moment in the new administration of President Trump. Thanks again.
Howard: Thanks, Blake.
Kevin: Thanks, Blake.