Pro-business Dem group hits record membership

The New Democrat Coalition will have a record number of members in the next Congress, strengthening the pro-business group’s relationship with K Street at a time when the party’s far-left lawmakers want to cut ties with corporations.

The New Democrats are slated to have about 90 lawmakers in their ranks when the party takes control of the House next month. But their ascent is likely to create tension with lawmakers at the other end of Democrats’ political spectrum.

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K Street has maintained close relationships with members of the fiscally conservative coalition, formed in 1997, with lawmakers regularly sitting down with CEOs and representatives from think tanks to discuss policy ideas and proposals.

“New Dems are the ones who will get things done, as opposed to the progressives like [Rep.-elect] Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez blasts Electoral College as a 'scam' Trump slams Tlaib after press conference on Israel ban: I don't buy her tears Scaramucci calls on GOP to save country from Trump 'depredations' MORE,” a consultant told The Hill, referring to the recently elected New York Democrat, adding that the coalition is “committed to the small bipartisan policy victories.”

Lobbyists say they look to the New Democrats as a kind of window into the Democratic Party.

“It’s not, ‘Let’s just go to the New Dems because they will agree with what we want to do,’ ” a lobbyist said. “They know enough about business and the economy to know what’s real and what’s bullshit.”

The lawmakers engaging in those policy debates are folks like Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesRising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress MORE (D-Conn.), the group’s outgoing chairman, and his successor, Rep. Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerHouse Democrats inch toward majority support for impeachment Wave of Washington state lawmakers call for impeachment proceedings against Trump No. 3 Senate Democrat calls for House to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump MORE (D-Wash.).

“We are laser-focused on growing the pie, creating jobs in every part of the country, and building an economy where businesses innovate and create more economic opportunities for more people in more places,” Kilmer said in a statement.

Members of the coalition who are slated to be in leadership for the 116th Congress include Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosDCCC is out of step with Democratic values Climate report makes agri-business a target Farmers have to be part of climate solutions MORE (Ill.), who will be Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairwoman, and Rep.-elect Katie HillKatherine (Katie) Lauren HillAnti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump House Dems, Senate GOP build money edge to protect majorities Live coverage: House Oversight examines Trump family separation policy MORE (Calif.), a freshman caucus representative.

“New Democrats will reach across the aisle in both the House and Senate on priorities like reducing the cost of health care, making Congress work better through House rules reform, ethics reform, and campaign finance reform, and investing in American infrastructure,” the group’s spokesperson said.

Thirty members-elect are said to be joining the coalition in the new year, far outpacing the like-minded Blue Dog Coalition, which prioritizes issues such as fiscal responsibility.

But while the coalition’s numbers have increased, its influence doesn’t extend as high up as the party’s top leader in the House, Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJohnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Mueller report fades from political conversation Five key players in Trump's trade battles MORE (Calif.).

“She has her own independent relationships, especially with the technology industry,” a former Democratic staffer said. “I do think there’s recognition in the caucus that this is a place where New Dems spend a lot of energy and time thinking about these issues and have good relationships.”

However, another lobbyist said Pelosi and the party may be depending on the coalition when it comes to attracting independent voters.

“She knows that she has that coalition that knows how to speak the language of business and understands the economy in a way that independents get,” the lobbyist said. “I think she relies on them a lot and she counts on them.”

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But with the Democratic Party changing, the loud, progressive wing of the party wants to weaken the influence of lobbying and money in politics.

Ocasio-Cortez, for example, has refused to accept corporate PAC donations and has not shied away from criticizing pay-to-play politics at both the local and federal level.

“Amazon hiring former NYC Councilmembers to be their lobbyists doesn’t change the fact that they are trying to trample democracy, skip the need for public review, and somehow force construction of a digital company town in LIC on public dime w/o public consent,” she tweeted last week, not long after she made headlines for condemning lobbyists for their presence at a bipartisan orientation event for newly elected lawmakers.

One lobbyist pushed back on criticism that groups like the New Dems are too cozy with corporate America.

“It’s not just about meetings in Washington and fundraisers, it’s about developing these relationships with thought leaders,” a former Democratic staffer said. “New Dems are willing to engage because the members really care about policies that grow the economy and they want to talk to leaders with real world experience to help inform those policies.”

But those conversations are not always easy ones.

“New Dems have a lot of follow-up questions, so interacting with them is harder work,” another lobbyist said. “They’ve been around the block. They’ve been in business and they understand business. They know how to call B.S. but they’re not hostile to business.”

“They will push back, they want to get in the weeds,” that lobbyist said. “The New Dem PAC retreat has policy meetings, not skeet shooting.”

David Thomas, a partner at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, told The Hill that the coalition “may not always agree with you, and they will be honest with where they stand on if they don’t agree with you, and that’s always appreciated with folks downtown.”

Lobbyists said they have been advising clients to have relationships with members of every bloc in the Democratic Party, but they add that the New Democrat Coalition just may be able to get more done.

 “They’re a group that wants to get to yes, so they’ll work in good faith with the leadership on legislation and policies. They’re not a group of members that have to be a no,” a lobbyist said. “What would you rather work with? A group that you can engage with, negotiate with, that will get there or a group that … will never say yes?”