Taiwan lobby scores victory with Trump call

Taiwan lobby scores victory with Trump call
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President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE’s call with the president of Taiwan was a watershed moment for lobbyists who have worked for years to create closer ties with the United States.

While Trump and his team have downplayed the call as merely congratulatory, it is being interpreted around the world as a sign that the president-elect intends to change U.S. policy toward Taiwan in defiance of China.

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A U.S. president had not communicated with leaders in Taiwan since 1979, when the United States cut diplomatic ties. Since then, official U.S. policy has been to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China.

American leaders have, however, still provided security assistance and arms sales to Taiwan, in addition to expressing support for the country overall. 

Entities connected to Taiwan’s government have lobbied aggressively in Washington over the years. This year alone, they’ve paid out more than $1.3 million in fees to 10 law and lobbying firms.

Six of the 10 lobbying firms working on behalf of Taiwanese interests work for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), the de facto embassy in Washington established in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.

The firms working for Taiwan include Gephardt Group Government Affairs, run by former Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.); the Nickles Group, founded by former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.); Alston & Bird, a law and lobby firm that features advocacy work by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.); and the Daschle Group, started by former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

The Trump call has “forced us to reexamine our policies in Asia,” said Nathan Daschle, the chief operating officer of the Daschle Group who also works on the Taiwan account. 

“Sometimes the political marketplace is not perfect. Taiwan is a great example of that,” he said. “Firms like ours come in and try to achieve solutions that are good for our client and good for our country. With Taiwan, the two are almost always in sync.”

From April through September of this year, TECRO paid the Daschle Group $162,000.

“A lot of people, whether or not they have a financial interest at stake, are happy this door is opened,” Daschle added.

China has pushed back on the phone call with Trump, though it has mostly directed its anger at Taiwan.

Chinese state-owned media, however, penned a stinging op-ed about the call.

“Provoking friction and messing up China-US relations won’t help ‘make America great again,’ ” read the page-one opinion article from People’s Daily. 

Daschle, the son of the former senator, said Trump’s call with Taiwan is a good example of why he won the presidency in the first place.

“Donald Trump clearly understands the American electorate very well. A lot of people struggle to understand why it’s a problem to accept a phone call from a close ally who shares our values and wants our leadership out of fear of angering a country that doesn’t,” Daschle said. “This protocol might make sense to people inside D.C., but it doesn’t make sense to most everyone outside D.C.”

Disclosure forms submitted to the Justice Department show that lobbyists for Taiwan have been courting allies on Capitol Hill.

Lobbyists made a push for a congressional trip to visit the island and invited lawmakers to a Washington inaugural celebration for Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who was elected in January.

Many firms involved in lobbying for Taiwan either did not respond to a request for comment about their work for the island or declined to comment.

Aside from seeking closer U.S. relations, advocates for Taiwan have also worked on trade issues, arms sales and legislation directing the secretary of State to help Taiwan obtain observer status in the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), disclosure forms say.

Congress did pass a bill granting Taiwan observer status, which President Obama signed earlier this year.

There is growing support on Capitol Hill for boosting the relationship with Taiwan, advocates told The Hill — including the bipartisan Senate Taiwan Caucus.

On Tuesday, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor Juan Williams: America warms up to socialism Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Wis.) told reporters that criticism was “much ado about nothing,” noting that he had also spoken to Taiwan’s leader recently.

Dole — a special counsel at Alston & Bird — led the charge to work with the Trump campaign in the months before Election Day, according to a review of disclosure documents first reported by BuzzFeed.

The former Senate majority leader also arranged a meeting between Trump surrogate Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh accuser willing to testify | Kavanaugh denies allegations, says he’s willing to testify | 50 days from the midterms Ken Starr backs Mueller, says president 'must be held accountable' The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil MORE (R-Ala.) and the Taiwanese ambassador and led a Taiwanese delegation through meetings at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland over the summer, records reviewed by The Hill show.

Dole has continued to work with the Trump presidential transition team, including providing briefings, and may have had a role in the call between the president-elect and Tsai, according to public records and a report by The Wall Street Journal

“It’s fair to say that we may have had some influence,” Dole told the Journal.

He also scored a White House tour for a visiting delegation.

TECRO paid Alton & Bird $60,000 from November 2015 through April 2016. During the next six-month period, from May through October, the firm took in $140,000 in fees.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Dole reached out to GOP nominee Mitt Romney, documents reveal. The firm also reached out to former Gen. David Petraeus when he was CIA director and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Hypocrisy in Kavanaugh case enough to set off alarms in DC Clinton: Hard to ignore 'racial subtext of virtually everything Trump says' MORE when she was secretary of State.

Outside groups with no connection to the island have also been pushing Washington policymakers to increase their involvement with the Taiwanese government, known as the Republic of China.

The U.S. Taiwan Business Council, an advocacy group funded entirely by American businesses, has been working on the issue for decades. Its president, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, said he was heartened by the call.

“In my view, Trump injected some much needed credibility into the relationship with Taiwan,” he said. “What I expect is a more balanced relationship between U.S., Taiwan and China, and not the deferential relationship to China we’ve seen in the last eight years.”