The political advocacy organization, backed by billionaire Charles Koch, is preparing for life after President Donald Trump, while the libertarian group explores strategies in which they may push back and seek a possible alliance with President-elect Joe Biden.
The Koch network had a mixed relationship with the Trump administration. They cheered Trump’s tax cuts, corporate deregulation, push to reform criminal justice and his candidates for the Supreme Court. They fought against his introduction of tariffs and the way he treated those participating in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.
The network has been open to supporting Democrats in congressional races and has refused to support Trump’s offer for re-election. A Koch-backed group known as the Libre Initiative recently supported Democrats, including Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, during his successful elementary school earlier this year. The Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity (AFP) endorsed the Republican Senate candidates in 2020.
Still, that slight change in sentiment by the network could lead to a different relationship with Biden than the often tense battles they had with former Vice President’s old boss, President Barack Obama. The group spent millions on Obama during his 2012 re-election campaign and pushed for a variety of his proposals, including the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s a very different cooking network that Biden didn’t see much of during his Obama years,” a longtime associate of the organization told CNBC.
Those who refused to appear in this story did so to speak freely.
The network is closely monitoring the Georgia Senate’s battle to set its priorities in the coming months, according to others who have been made aware of the matter.
At least one Senate race in the state between Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock was called for a runoff election by NBC News in January. NBC News has yet to decide whether the other race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and GOP Senator David Perdue will also run into a runoff. Americans for Prosperity recently announced that it will be an Ossoff-Perdue drain.
Both races could decide the fate of which party controls the Senate agenda.
AFP declined to comment on the story. A spokesman for the Biden transition team did not return a request for comment.
Dan Garza, president of the Libre Initiative, noted Biden’s goal of reaching Republicans as a good sign for his organization across the aisle. He said further reforms to the criminal code, immigration policy and trade proposals could be some of the areas in which the network could assist the president-elect.
Issues of concern, Garza said, include Biden’s proposal to raise taxes, any move, grabbing the Supreme Court, and what he called the “war on power generation”.
“I see opportunities, but I see areas where we have to resist,” Garza said in an interview with CNBC.
Some of Biden’s reported goals in his first 100 days in office seem at least partially in line with what Koch’s orbit has been pushing for in the later stages of Trump’s tenure.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Biden is due to review tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on a variety of European and Chinese goods. CBS News reported that Biden plans to fully restore the Obama-era DACA program after Trump’s unsuccessful attempts to end it.
Although Trump signed a law to reform criminal justice known as the First Step Act, Biden appears to want to expand on that. His campaign plan mentions the idea of ”creating a new competitive $ 20 billion grant program to encourage states to move from incarceration to prevention” and the need to motivate states to focus on the Focus on job creation and mentoring as a solution to youth detention.
A person familiar with the network referred to Obama’s remarks in 2015 citing the Koch network for its efforts to reform criminal justice as a sign that Biden might find a way to work with them.
“You have the NAACP and the Koch brothers,” Obama said at the NAACP annual meeting, referring to Charles and his late brother David, who died in 2019. “No, you have to do them credit. I have to call it what you see it,” he said when speaking of the groups working to fix the criminal justice system.
Grover Norquist, President of Conservative Americans for Tax Reform, told CNBC he has known the Koch brothers for over 40 years. He backed Trump’s tax cuts and has apparently turned down all of Biden’s economic proposals. But even he admitted that the Koch network could find similarities with Biden in the reform of the criminal justice system.
However, he also pointed out that outside of trade deals, a Biden White House could find a variety of disagreements with the Koch network.
“Some trade deals are possible. But not much,” Norquist told CNBC when asked where Biden and Koch could see eye to eye.
Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who has attended cooking seminars in the past, says the network may ultimately focus on advancing its trade goals and protecting its other profits.
“Koch will try to protect the profits made under the Trump administration on taxes and regulatory reforms through the Senate majority,” Eberhart told CNBC. “You could try to reset the trade agenda under Biden, who is certainly more committed to free trade than the Trump administration.”