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Top Koch network officials vent frustration with White House, GOP-led Congress
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Senior officials from the group of networks affiliated with billionaire conservative businessman Charles Koch are expressing deep frustration with President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, even as they spend heavily to elect Republicans and promote conservative causes ahead of the midterm elections.
From trade to immigration and spending, top Koch network strategists, who briefed reporters at a five-star resort in Colorado Springs for the group's biannual seminar, outlined the areas from which they believe the Trump administration and GOP Congress have gone astray.
They're also frustrated by what they view as the "divisiveness" of the Trump administration - something officials say is complicating lawmakers' ability to find areas of compromise.
"The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage," said Brian Hooks, president of The Charles Koch Foundation. "When in order to win on an issue, someone else has to lose, it makes it very difficult to unite and solve the problems of this country."
"When we say there's a lack of leadership ... I'd include the White House and a number of politicians who are following that lead," Hooks continued. "There's a need for someone to step up and show people it's possible to achieve things when you unite people together ... rather than divide them."
On trade, Koch officials vented about what they described as "Depression-era" policies punctuated by farmer "bailouts." The Trump administration is giving $12 billion in aid to farmers impacted by retaliatory tariffs.
"This is hurting people and doing long-term damage to the country," Hooks said.
And Koch network officials said they're appalled by the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, which resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents at the southern border. The administration is rushing now to meet court-ordered deadlines to reunite those families.
"We've been very vocal in our opposition to that, it's one of the main injustices we're trying to work really hard to unite people around and ultimately to drive the administration to change their policy there," said Koch network spokesman James Davis.
The Koch network also voiced issues with the Republicans who control both chambers of Congress.
They'd like to see Congress pass a bill providing a pathway to citizenship for nearly 2 million "Dreamers," immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
And they're still fuming over the $1.3 trillion spending package that was passed in March.
"The challenge here is that if we continue to do that we'll slow the decline of the country rather than change the trajectory of the country, and our supporters and donors have said 'no,' we have to step up to lead here," Davis said.
The Koch network will spend about $400 million this election cycle on politics and policy. The network is typically supportive of Republicans but they've also spent money to hold GOP lawmakers accountable, particularly on spending.
The Koch network's political arm has so far gone after 10 House Republicans and two GOP senators for supporting the spending package or voting against spending clawbacks.
Still, a sizable chunk of the political money has been pumped into races supporting Republican Senate candidates going up against Democrats seeking reelection in states Trump carried in 2016.
Prison reform is another top priority for the network.
The House earlier this year passed the First Step Act by a 360-59 margin.
There is an urgency among the network of conservative donors and activists for the Senate to take up the bill, which aims to incentivize inmates to complete prison programs that might reduce their likelihood to commit crimes again when they are released.
This weekend's Koch network gathering at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is the largest seminar the group has ever held, with more than 500 donors, business leaders, lawmakers and philanthropists. Donors are expected to contribute $100,000 or more to be invited.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R), Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.) are among the elected officials on hand.