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Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has recruited at least three veteran House Republican staffers and consultants to join his presidential campaign-in-waiting, bringing on seasoned and well-connected GOP operatives who know their way around the very political apparatus helping to reelect President TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE in 2020.

They include Brendon DelToro and Matt LoParco, who served as deputy political director and external affairs director, respectively, to former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power Business groups back pandemic insurance bill modeled on post-9/11 law National Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus MORE (R-Ohio) during the 2018 cycle.

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A third Schultz hire, GOP consultant Greg Strimple, founder of GS Strategy Group, has done polling and other consulting for the NRCC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with former Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe truth, the whole truth about protecting preexisting conditions McCarthy urges networks not to call presidential race until 'every polling center has closed' House Republicans slated to hold leadership election on Nov. 17 MORE (R-Calif.), according to campaign finance reports.

The hires are reflective of Schultz’s efforts to cast himself as a political centrist who doesn’t neatly fit into the rank-and-file of either major party. They also signal that Schultz, a lifelong Democrat, is likely to make a play for Republican voters should he mount a campaign for the White House.

In an interview, Stivers said former NRCC staffers are free to do what they want but called it “frustrating” that some would choose to work for a man who is looking to oust Trump next year.

“That’s frustrating, but it’s their lives,” Stivers, a Trump ally, said in an interview with The Hill. “We had 90 Republicans operatives working for us and some of them are gonna go do other things.”

Asked specifically about DelToro, who is said to be recruiting fellow NRCC alums to the Schultz operation in Seattle, Stivers replied: “It’s a free world, and he can do what he wants. I’m not sure it will be easy for him to get back into Republican politics, but that’s on him I guess.”

“I hope he’s well paid,” Stivers added.

DelToro did not respond to a request for comment.

Asked about former NRCC staffers working for Team Schultz, current NRCC Chairman Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments 3 congressmen on Air Force One with Trump took commercial flight after president's diagnosis House Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts MORE (R-Minn.) replied: “I don’t know anything about it.”

Schultz spokeswoman Erin McPike pushed back on Stivers’s suggestion that these operatives would have trouble breaking back into Republican politics.

The former Starbucks CEO, she said, is focused on bringing together staffers “from all walks of life and political stripes”

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“When you talk about it from people with both sides of the aisle, there’s nothing else going on quite like this right now,” McPike said Wednesday. “So, the idea that Steve Stivers would say someone can’t work on one side of the aisle again … that is unbelievable to me.”

Sources said Schultz, a billionaire, is throwing big money at experienced, professional Democratic and Republican operatives alike — annual salaries perhaps in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In January, Schultz hired veteran GOP strategist Steve Schmidt and veteran Democratic strategist Bill Burton.

“I would insist on $500,000 a year, plus moving expenses,” said a former veteran GOP presidential campaign staffer who has been closely watching the Schultz campaign take shape. “It’s a tremendous financial opportunity. Senior jobs in a presidential campaign don’t grow on trees, and if you are not enthused about working for Trump, it’s alluring. I don’t begrudge these people at all.”

Last cycle, DelToro and LoParco worked out of the same building that houses the Republican National Committee, which Trump has now merged with his 2020 reelection campaign, though they were not employed by the RNC.

The new Schultz hires are irking Republicans and Democrats alike.

In the weeks after Schultz raised the prospect of an independent run in January, some Democrats worried that his candidacy would siphon off centrist votes from the eventual Democratic nominee and potentially hand Trump a second term in the White House.

Fueling frustrations was Schultz’s decision to hire Burton, who advised former President Obama during his successful 2008 run for the White House. Democrats saw that move as seeking to lend credibility to Schultz’s nascent political operation.

At the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) annual winter meeting last month, party officials privately grumbled over Schultz’s prospective independent bid.

But the tenor of those complaints reflected more frustration than concern.

Several DNC members said Schultz — despite being a lifelong Democrat — had done little in the past to help the party and that a White House run looked more like a publicity stunt than a genuine effort to oust Trump.

“I’m only hoping he hires smart people who can advise him pragmatically on how dangerous this is,” one Democratic operative said Thursday. “Are they prepared to tell Howard Schultz, ‘the book tour is over, time to get back to real life.’ ”

That operative warned that a job on Schultz’s would-be campaign could also be toxic for anyone looking to return to Democratic politics in the future.

“Howard Schultz’s campaign represents the best opportunity Donald Trump has for reelection,” the operative said. “So, anyone who enables this process is someone [Democrats] won’t want to hire. I’m not even sure we’d want to have them over for dinner.”

Schultz’s GOP hires have bounced around Republican circles for years, and in some cases, decades. 

Earlier this decade, DelToro served as both campaign manager and chief of staff for Rep. Jackie WalorskiJacqueline (Jackie) R. WalorskiLawmakers press CDC for guidance on celebrating Halloween during pandemic More than 100 lawmakers urge IRS to resolve stimulus payment issues Scaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach MORE (R-Ind.). He then managed former Indiana GOP Rep. Marlin StutzmanMarlin Andrew StutzmanK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid McCarthy's GOP critics see opening after Benghazi blunder MORE’s failed 2016 Senate campaign.

On the Stutzman campaign, DelToro worked closely with Brooks Kochvar, who has also joined Team Schultz, GOP sources confirmed.

Kochvar has advised Walorski, Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGeorgia Republican Drew Ferguson tests positive for COVID-19 Trump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' White House to host swearing-in event for Barrett on Monday night MORE (R-Utah) and former Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteBottom line The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length MORE (R-N.H.), who was Neil Gorsuch’s Trump-appointed liaison to Capitol Hill during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.   

Kochvar also worked with Strimple at GS Strategy Group, a consulting firm with deep ties to the Congressional Leadership Fund and other Republican groups.

During the 2018 election cycle, the GOP leadership-aligned PAC paid GS Strategy more than $1.5 million for polling services, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Among the firm’s other top clients in 2018: Senate Leadership Fund, the Senate Republican leadership-aligned super PAC, and Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyHouse Republicans slated to hold leadership election on Nov. 17 McCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Steve King defends past comments on white supremacy, blasts NYT and GOP leaders in fiery floor speech MORE (R-Wyo.), chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, whose campaign paid GS Strategy $11,700 for polling work.

LoParco, Stiver’s body man last cycle, previously worked for Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLoeffler says she's 'not familiar' with Trump's comments from 'Access Hollywood' tape The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden's big battleground | Trump and Harris hit the trail in Arizona | Turnout surges among new voters Biden takes 5-point lead over Trump in Georgia in new poll MORE (Ga.), who served in GOP leadership and is now the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

-- Updated at 12:45 p.m.