Frustrated with inaction over immigration reform, the Kochs brothers' political network is launching a seven-figure ad campaign aimed at restarting frozen bipartisan talks to help protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.
On Sunday's "Meet the Press," the Libre Initiative and Freedom Partners will air a national broadcast advertisement, calling on congressional leaders to come up with a permanent fix for DREAMers after President Donald Trump announced plans to rescind the Obama-era program last year. The ad splices footage of past presidents, from Bill Clinton, to George W. Bush, to Barack Obama, making pro-immigrant remarks. And it urges GOP and Democratic leaders to revive negotiations to provide funding for Trump‘s proposed border wall in return for a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants.
"There's a bipartisan path forward on immigration that offers a permanent solution for our DREAMers and a stronger border. What are we waiting for? Certainty for DREAMers and security for everyone," the ad says, according to a draft shared with POLITICO.
In addition to broadcast and cable buys, the two groups will also run targeted digital ads trying to spur House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to a compromise. Officials declined to break down the spending but said it would total more than $1 million.
"Congress and the White House have spent a lot of time talking about DACA, but today, our elected officials have yet to approve a permanent legislative solution," said Daniel Garza, president of the Libre Initiative.
Democrats are not enthused with the campaign given the Koch network‘s preference for conservative candidates.
"Wake me up when they stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars to elect Republicans that vote against the Dreamers," said Matt House, a spokesman for Schumer.
The campaign shows the increasing annoyance with inaction on Capitol Hill among the political network backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Last month, as Congress raced to clinch a $1.3 trillion spending deal, Trump sought $25 billion in border wall money for temporary protections for DREAMers. Democrats countered by demanding a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants, and the talks imploded. Now Trump's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is caught up in the courts, and there is no apparent movement on Capitol Hill or in the White House.
The Koch network is mounting a sustained campaign to make sure that changes.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., speaks at a news conference calling for the passage of the Dream Act in January, along with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Lujan Grisham is one of five Democratic lawmakers, along with nine Republicans, receiving praise over immigration, in the form of paid ads, by the Koch network. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
The Koch brothers are going rogue.
For years the political network funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch funded politicians on the right, laying the foundation for the libertarian causes the two support. Their support has gone almost exclusively to Republican candidates, with rare exception.
But in the era of Trump, what it means to be on the "right" is changing, and the Koch network's tactics are changing to reflect new realities.
For the first time, the LIBRE Initiative — the Hispanic outreach arm of the Koch network — is putting money behind efforts to praise Democrats on the federal level, and doing so with control of Congress on the line in the midterm elections.
"This stands out. People when they talk about the Koch network ... they point at areas like tax reform, where we've worked very closely with Republican members," said Wadi Gaitan, a spokesman for the LIBRE Initiative. "Here on this issue, we have Democrats where we want to make sure that their constituents are aware that they are working on a permanent solution for DREAMers and on border security. So it certainly is a unique effort."
It's a novel approach for a network that has made a name for itself for funding causes on the right — and has only very sparsely praised anyone in the Democratic Party.
But the Republican Party under the Trump administration has not moved closer to the libertarian philosophy favored by the Kochs: The White House has pursued foreign tariffs, taken a hard line on immigration, and approved a massive spending bill that would increase the deficit.
As the Republican Party moves further away from the Kochs' ideals, it appears that their network has begun investing in bipartisan efforts that unite members of both parties.
In recent years the Koch network has pursued issues such as criminal justice reform, letting terminally ill patients try experimental medical interventions, and protecting DREAMers — immigrants in the U.S. who were brought to the country as children — which draws interest from both sides of the aisle.
"Even when Congress agrees that action is required, members tend to focus on petty differences rather than getting the job done," James Davis, a senior official in the Koch network, wrote in a recent op-ed. "Our fervent hope is that even isolated agreements won't just advance good policy but will also help tear down the walls of mistrust and bitterness that have degraded our politics and turned Americans against one another."
This mailer will be sent to constituents of Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., as the LIBRE Initiative, part of the libertarian Koch network, reaches across the aisle on immigration.
The LIBRE Initiative
The LIBRE Initiative, which is part of the Koch network's advocacy for typically conservative causes, has found reason to praise Democrats like Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico on immigration.
The LIBRE Initiative
The LIBRE Initiative's new effort takes place within that context. They will send mailers to more than 100,000 homes, thanking Democrats and Republicans for their work on a legislative fix for DREAMers.
Democratic Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, as well as Democratic Reps. Raul Ruiz and Pete Aguilar of California will be the recipients of this political ad push, as will Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. Luján is the chairman of House Democrats' campaign committee.
Republicans still make up more than half of the beneficiaries of this ad blitz — six GOP House members and three GOP Senate lawmakers will get kudos from the Koch network. They have already pledged to spend nearly $400 million in 2017-2018 to back the Koch Network's policy goals in various states and the federal level, including the free market policy gains achieved by the Republican-controlled Congress.
"Thank you Sen. Coons for supporting a permanent solution for Dreamers," one mailer reads. "More than 90% of Americans want protection for the Dreamers."
The LIBRE Initiative declined to say precisely how much it would be spending on this effort, except to note that it was part of a larger seven-figure project on finding a fix for DREAMers. This project includes television and digital advertisements, congressional advocacy, grass-roots mobilization and educational programs.
House Speaker Paul Ryan praises the Agriculture Committee's work on the farm bill at a news conference on Wednesday. He was joined by committee Chairman Mike Conaway (from left), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Updated at 6:21 p.m. ET
The House rejected a $867 billion farm bill on Friday — after spending days negotiating with key conservatives in an attempt to pass the bill without the support of Democrats.
The vote was 198-213. Every Democrat voted against the measure, as did 30 Republicans. Many of the GOP lawmakers are members of the House Freedom Caucus and voted no after failing to get concessions on spending and a future vote on immigration in exchange for their support.
Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told reporters after the vote that voters elected Republicans to rein in illegal immigration and lawmakers have failed to act.
"Some members have concerns about the farm bill. but that wasn't my main focus," Jordan said. "My main focus was making sure we do immigration policy right."
The failure was an embarrassment for House leaders, who tried to pressure their members to fall in line on the farm legislation. Leaders promised conservatives a chance to vote on a hard-line immigration bill in the coming weeks, but that did not satisfy the influential bloc.
Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said leaders believed they had the votes for the farm policy, but conservatives chose to wreak havoc anyway.
"We had enough members who were willing to vote yes on the farm bill," McHenry said. "[They] had a commitment on when we would vote on immigration but wanted to hijack the process to get an immigration vote before they actually fulfilled their pledge that they made to their constituents on the farm bill." https://www.npr.org/2018/05/18/612203191/house-farm-bill-in-jeopard...
The future of the bill is uncertain. Republican leaders are discussing ways to bring it up again. A revote could hinge on whether GOP leaders agree to a vote on a controversial immigration bill that many Republican moderates oppose. Those members, many running for re-election in competitive districts, are pressing, instead, for a vote on a measure that gives a path to citizenship for children of undocumented workers.
In a statement, White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said President Trump "is disappointed in the result of today's vote, and hopes the House can resolve any remaining issues in order to achieve strong work requirements and support our nation's agricultural community."
On Thursday evening, Trump tweeted his support for the farm bill.
Tomorrow, the House will vote on a strong Farm Bill, which includes work requirements. We must support our Nation’s great farmers!
The Freedom Caucus had extra leverage in the talks because most Democrats oppose this farm bill because of changes to food stamps.
The farm bill is generally known as the biggest safety net for millions of farmers across the country. But it also includes the Supplemental Nutrition Program — known as SNAP or food stamps. Last year, 40 million people used the program, totaling about $70 billion in spending.
Republicans and Trump want strict work requirements for people who receive those benefits, a plan Democrats reject. That left House leaders searching for conservative votes.
But conservatives oppose the amount of spending on SNAP in the bill.
The food stamp fight turned the once-bipartisan safety-net package into another contentious political battle in the House. It also pits the House against the Senate, where Republicans are working with Democrats on a compromise bill. The top GOP senator crafting that chamber's version, Pat Roberts of Kansas, has already indicated he is starting from a different framework.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., followed through on a threat to hold up passage of the bill until the group can extract a vote on security-focused immigration legislation by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. His proposal has been opposed by Democrats and would have required passage on the strength of GOP votes alone — a level of support that GOP leaders insisted the Goodlatte bill does not have on the House floor.
And conservatives, like Meadows, have turned the legislation into a last-minute election-year opportunity. They want Republicans to deliver on their promise to cut government spending.
"You know, 76 percent of this farm bill has nothing to do with farms," Meadows said in a recent appearance on C-SPAN. "When you look at that, 24 percent of it actually is about farms and supporting our farmers."
But food stamps are in the farm bill because of politics. The program was added in the 1970s as a way to persuade urban lawmakers to vote for an expensive safety net for farmers. And for decades, it worked.
That coalition is at risk of crumbling this year after House Democrats all but abandoned negotiations. Last month at a hearing on the bill, Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, blamed Republicans for forcing Democrats out of the negotiations.
"I didn't walk away; we didn't walk away," Peterson said. "We were pushed away by an ideological fight I repeatedly warned the chairman not to start."
Peterson, of Minnesota, said he has worked with Republicans on every farm bill since the early 1990s. Following Friday's vote he said he was willing to work with Republicans on a bill, and deliver votes from Democrats, provided that food stamps are protected.
"If they will listen to me I can deliver a lot of Democrats on this bill," Peterson said. "If they listen to me. That's up to them. The ball is in their court."
But House Republicans had the backing of Trump on the food stamp provision. They wanted strict requirements that recipients who are healthy and able to work spend time searching for jobs — and getting training or volunteering.
And they say voters agree. Republicans point to polls from the right-leaning Foundation for Government Accountability. The group's vice president for federal affairs, Kristina Rasmussen, says the support crosses ideological lines.
"You see 7 out of 10 Democrats supporting these ideas," Rasmussen said in an interview. "Independents usually come in at 8 out of 10, Republicans 9 out of 10."
Support or no, this version of the bill would have been dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats have more sway.
"Regardless of what happens in the House, and I hope they can get something passed, the Senate is working toward a bipartisan bill because we have to get 60 votes," Roberts said prior to the vote.
The current farm law expires at the end of September — all but ensuring that the fight will continue right up until the next election.
The Koch brothers have never liked Donald Trump. The Kochs understand the nature of politics therefore, they prefer to support down-ballot. They understand that the US Constitution gives more power to Congress than to the President of the United States. It is the Congress that can impeach or fire the President. And the Congress can override Presidential Vetoes by a two-third majority. Congress has the power to make laws, not the President.
This Is What European Diplomats Really Think About Donald Trump
Interviews with six top officials paint a picture of a president who is regarded even by allies as erratic and limited, and whose shortcomings are compounded by the ongoing chaos beneath him in the White House.
LONDON – Even before the latest escalation of nuclear threats between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, senior diplomats and officials from the US's European allies have been warning that the US president’s approach to world affairs is extremely dangerous – pointing to his apparent ignorance of other countries’ history, his unfiltered use of social media, and the lack of a strong, experienced team around him.
In interviews with BuzzFeed News, six top European government officials who’ve had firsthand dealings on the international stage with Trump and his administration describe a president regarded even by allies as erratic and limited, and whose perceived shortcomings are compounded by the ongoing chaos beneath him in the White House.
The officials, all speaking on condition of anonymity, voiced similar and consistent concerns, in particular over his unprecedented use of Twitter, which they said demonstrated the lack of normal government controls at the top of the administration.
“Trump could send a tweet in the middle of the night pissing off Kim Jong Un. And the next morning we wake up to a world on the brink of war,” one seasoned diplomat told BuzzFeed News.
That observation came before Trump's latest bellicose rhetoric, and the sense of alarm in European governments can only have increased in the last 24 hours. On Tuesday evening, Trump warned North Korea would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the US. His comments have already prompted Kim Jong Un’s regime to ratchet up its own threats, announcing that it was considering a preemptive missile strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam. On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that the US nuclear arsenal is now "far stronger and more powerful than ever before...."
Jung Yeon-je / AFP / Getty Images
The current standoff is a dramatic illustration of the grave international concerns over Trump.
On one level, the officials said, he is something of a laughing stock among Europeans at international gatherings. One revealed that a small group of diplomats play a version of word bingo whenever the president speaks because they consider his vocabulary to be so limited. “Everything is ‘great’, ‘very, very great’, ‘amazing’,” the diplomat said.
But behind the mocking, there is growing fear among international governments that Trump is a serious threat to international peace and stability.
“He has no historical view. He is only dealing with these issues now, and seems to think the world started when he took office,” a diplomat told BuzzFeed News, pointing to Trump’s remarks and tweets about defence spending. “He thinks that NATO existed only to keep the communists out of Europe. He has a similar attitude in Asia-Pacific with Japan, ignoring that the US basically wrote their constitution.” During his presidential campaign, Trump called out Japan to pay more for the security US provides, including for hosting the US troops in the country. Japan’s constitution restricts its military options.
They also believe Trump’s foreign policy is chiefly driven by an obsession with unravelling Barack Obama’s policies. “It’s his only real position,” one European diplomat said. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t.’ He won’t even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate. He is obsessed with Obama.”
Sean Gallup / Getty Images
Another diplomat said it had proved impossible to discuss serious international issues, such as Libya, with Trump. And seven months into his presidency, the European officials say they are still struggling to figure out who else they can engage with in the US administration.
Describing a meeting between their boss and the president as “basically useless,” they said: “He [Trump] just bombed us with questions: ‘How many people do you have? What’s your GDP? How much oil does [that country] produce? How many barrels a day? How much of it is yours?’”
“He’s not the kind of person you can have a discussion about how to deal with [Fayez] al-Sarraj [the prime minister of Libya]," the official added. "So you look for people around him, and that is where it’s a problem: The constant upheaval, it’s unclear who has influence, who is close to the president."
A number of European officials compared Trump with Italian former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – but said the similarities end at their inappropriate jokes during meetings.
"Berlusconi wasn’t ignorant."
“Berlusconi wasn’t ignorant. And behind him he had officials and a whole government structure you could engage with,” one diplomat said.
The officials revealed that at international meetings, Trump has openly mocked his own aides, contradicting and arguing with them in front of other leaders. That has compounded the impression of an administration in chaos. “We can hear everything, it’s weird,” one diplomat said.
Officials also expressed concerns over the status of the State Department, and the lack of seasoned diplomats and experts within the White House. One diplomat suggested that US counterparts have privately lamented to Europeans about the number of roles in the administration that have yet to be filled resulting in a lack of clear positions on many policy areas.
“The White House lacks crucial expertise,” one said. “The State Department and others are isolated. You have the generals, the National Security Council, and then a void. There aren’t enough diplomats, experts etc. in the White House. [Secretary of state Rex] Tillerson has a small team. Does Trump listen to [James] Mattis [secretary of defence], [H.R.] McMaster [national security adviser], to the experts?”
The officials think only Trump's family members, in particular his daughter Ivanka, really have the president's trust. They described the body language between Trump and Tillerson as “terrible”.
A senior US defence official, who also spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity, described the many roles that still needed filling, some of Trump’s comments about US allies, and the apparent differing positions within the administration as “not ideal”.
However, the official added: “If you go beyond the antics and look at actions and shared interests there is no way you can say the US is turning away from Europe. There are no signs the US is retreating.”
Matt Cardy / Getty Images
Trump and German leader Angela Merkel at the G20.
Some diplomats noted that Trump understands power dynamics, and seems eager to affirm his place within these. “He gets that Germany is important. He is very graceful with China’s Xi Jinping. The impression is that he is seeking affirmation and approval as president of the United States,” a senior European government official said.
Still, the official added, “he divides up countries based on his worldview. He doesn’t respect France for their handling of immigration. It is clear he dislikes Germany.”
European officials who spoke to BuzzFeed News said the effects of Trump’s “America First” agenda were already visible, and the potential consequences worrying.
“The main risk is a progressive disengagement from multilateralism, not just on economic issues, but also from political matters with potential risks linked to a return to unilateral action,” a diplomat said.
According to Jane Mayer in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the rise of the Radical Right (2016) the Koch and the Koch Network have/had no love for Barack Obama either. Mayer posits that on January 20, 2009, the eyes of the country were on Washington, where over a million cheering celebrants crowded the National Mall to witness the inauguration of the first African-American president. So many supporters streamed in from all across the nation that for twenty-four hours they nearly doubled Washington’s population. Inaugurations are always moving celebrations of the most basic democratic process, the peaceful transfer of power, but this one was especially euphoric. The country’s most famous and iconic musicians, from Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, to the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, gave soaring performances to mark the occasion. Celebrities and dignitaries pulled strings to get seats. Excitement was so feverish that the Democratic political consultant James Carville was predicting a long-term political realignment in which the Democrats “will remain in power for the next forty years.”
But on the other side of the country during the last weekend in January 2009, another kind of gathering was underway, of a group of activist who aimed to do all they could to nullify the results of the recent election. In Indian Wells, a California dessert town on the outskirts of Palm Springs, one polished sports utility vehicle after the next cruised down the long, palm-lined drive of the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa. Stepping out onto the curb as bellboys darted for luggage, were some of American’s most ardent conservatives, many of whom represented the nation’s most powerfully entrenched business interests. It would be hard to conjure a richer tableau of the good life than the one greeting them.
Inside the hotel’s dining room, the mood was grim, as if these luxuries merely highlighted how much the group gathered there had to lose. The guests meeting at the resort that weekend included many of biggest winners during the eight years of George W. bush’s presidency. There were billionaire businessmen, heirs to some of America’s greatest dynastic fortune, right-wing media mogul, conservative elected officials, and savvy political operatives who had made handsome livings helping the patrons win and hold power. There were also eloquent writers and publicist, whose work at think tanks, advocacy groups, and countless publications was quietly subsidized by corporate interest. The guests of honor though, were the potential political donors—or “investors,” as they referred to themselves—whose checkbooks would be sorely needed for the project at hand.
The group had been summoned that weekend not by the leader of a recognized opposition part but rather by a private citizen, Charles Koch. In his seventies, he was white-haired but youthfully fit and very much in charge of Koch Industries, a conglomerate headquartered in Wichita, Kansas.
By the time Barack Obama was elected president, the billionaire brothers’ political operation had become more sophisticated. By persuading an expanding, handpicked list of other wealthy conservatives to “invest” with them, they had in effect created a private political bank. It was this group of donors that gathered at the Renaissance. Most, like the Kochs, were businessmen with vast personal fortunes that placed them not just in the top 1 percent of the nation’s wealthiest citizens but in a more rarefied group, the top 0.1 percent or higher. By most standards, they were extraordinarily successful. But for this cohort, Obama’s election represented a galling setback.
During the previous eight years of republican rule, this conservative corporate elite had consolidated its power, amassing enormous sway over the U.S. government’s regulatory and tax laws. Some in this group faulted President Bush for not having been conservative enough. But having modeled policy to serve their interests during Bush year, many members of this caste had accumulated phenomenal wealth and regarded the newly elected Democratic president as a direct threat to all they gained. Percipients feared they were seeing not just the passing of eight years of Republican dominance but the end of a political order, one that they believed had immeasurably benefited both the country and themselves.