Lobbying groups are actively trying to figure out what a first hundred days of a Biden administration might look like.
With Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden ahead in the polls and Democrats with a shot of taking the Senate and having full control of Congress, business groups are game-planning for the possibility of a new era in Washington that could include higher taxes and new regulations — a dramatic departure from the Trump years.
At the same time, the groups are also preparing for the potential for four more years of President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE, a possibility that would bring about its own set of opportunities and challenges.
“Nobody should be caught flat-footed the day after the election. Companies and trade associations that take the time to think through various election scenarios now will be best prepared to succeed in 2021,” said David Thomas, a partner at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas.
Thomas, who was an aide to former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreTrump's election fraud claims pose risks for GOP in midterms Don't 'misunderestimate' George W. Bush Why the pro-choice movement must go on the offensive MORE and chief of staff to Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenBiden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Spotlight turns to GOP's McCarthy in Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-Calif.), said he has been working with both Democratic and Republican colleagues to work through Biden and Trump policy priorities for 2021, calling it “critical both to our clients and our business.”
Stewart Verdery, the CEO of Monument Advocacy, said his clients are cautiously preparing for a blue sweep in November.
“Clients are definitely getting prepared for a Biden presidency and the possibility of an all-Democrat town, but they know neither is a done deal,” said Verdery, who served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration.
“A Biden and Democratic Senate will have to move bills on immigration, tax and climate. A divided government might find room to negotiate on infrastructure and workforce issues. But four years is an eternity for policy in any area,” he added.
Lobbyists are also working overtime trying to make connections to prepare for a potential Biden presidency.
Biden has been in Washington for decades, after first being elected to the Senate in 1972, but his inner circle is much smaller compared to previous presidential contenders, according to former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), now a partner at lobbying firm Mercury.
“There’s just a desperate scramble to find some connections to Biden,” Weber said. “When Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonVirginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Business coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader MORE ran, there was joking about ‘friends of Bill’ because he had a huge network of people he knew around the country. Biden, we are finding, is quite different. He’s got a small circle of people who are very close to him and it makes the job of trying to establish a line of communications in the Biden world a bit more complicated.”
The coronavirus pandemic has made it harder to establish those connections.
“It is nearly impossible in the current environment to have traditional meetings with campaign and policy leaders,” said Loren Monroe, a principal at BGR Government Affairs who worked on former President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 reelection bid and former President George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign.
“Regardless of the political winds of the month, we regularly advise our clients to engage with the campaign and policy teams with both presidential campaigns,” he said. “We are now helping them prepare for various scenarios, including the November elections maintaining the status quo or resulting in a change in the executive branch or the U.S. Senate majority — or both.”
One issue that promises to be front and center for whoever wins in November is the coronavirus pandemic and calls for more COVID-19 relief from Congress.
Biden has said he will do many things on his first day if elected, including comprehensive immigration reform and raising corporate taxes.
But Biden campaign policy director Stef Feldman recently said the former vice president’s first priority would be to get the coronavirus outbreak under control, with the timing of other priorities depending on the state of the virus and economy.
“Vice President BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE’s first agenda is to get this virus under control and pull our economy out of this recession,” Feldman said.
She added that it’s “too hard at this point to sequence” agenda items beyond that given that the economic situation in January is unknown.
Karishma Shah Page, a partner at K&L Gates, said health care, trade and infrastructure and technology are likely to be on the agenda regardless of who wins.
“Sure, the mix of who is in charge will shift the policies that can be and are enacted, but those are the likely key areas of activity,” she said.
Weber said that after the 2016 election, companies eventually figured out how to adjust to a Trump presidency, but it took some time.
“They were shocked that he won, but people hired folks that were close to Trump and figured out strategies that would be appealing to Trump — trade strategies or invest-in-America strategies,” he said. “I think the adjustment to Trump did take longer than typically. One of the reasons is, although the corporate world tends to be more Republican, they are not Trump-style Republicans. There was a lot of culture shock in the corporate world ... and that extended to most of the government affairs folks in Washington.”
The effort to be prepared for any outcome is made more difficult by the twists and turns of the 2020 election.
“It is hard to project all of the various political combinations, but bipartisan firms are used to this type of thinking. We typically prepare memos on major policy issues for each scenario, then delete the outcomes that don’t happen before sending,” Verdery said.
Monroe added: “Many clients started the year assuming President Trump would be reelected based on the strong economy then shifting to believing over the summer that Vice President Biden was going to run away with it. Currently, there is a sense of great uncertainty about who will win the White House and the Senate in November as well as how long it will take to actually know the results.”
Predicting what four more years of Trump would look like is also worrisome to the business community. The Trump campaign has been vague about the president’s plans for a second term.
“We advise clients to ‘be prepared’ and to have done their homework. It is hard to succeed unless you do, especially following an election. We live in a very dynamic policy and political environment — a pandemic, natural disasters, social and racial justice movements, and now the Supreme Court,” Page said.
Thomas added that a clear lesson to take away from 2016 is you have to be ready for every outcome “no matter how far-fetched they may seem.”
“2020 continues to throw a lot of curveballs at us, and I expect October will be no different,” he said.