The Finance 202: Biden team extends welcome olive branch to K Street

The Finance 202: Biden team extends welcome olive branch to K Street

The incoming Biden team is quietly contacting business leaders and their Washington lobbyists, soliciting their input as they fill out personnel and policy plans and signaling they intend to keep open lines of communication once they take power. 

The outreach continues today as Business Forward, a group established in the Obama era to connect policymakers from that White House with big business executives and lobbyists, hosts a conference call with Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for budget director. It will be the first in a series as the group revs back up after lowering its profile in the Trump era. 

It is one front in a multi-pronged Biden team push to welcome industry interests into the fold. And it suggests that the incoming Biden administration might more friendly to K Street than President Trump’s White House.

Lobbyists describe the effort as a double-barreled relief.

They say it signals both that top Biden officials will solicit private-sector views and that the administration will restore an orderly policymaking process after four years of Trump-fueled chaos.

Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a former senior official for to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), tells me the big business lobby has had “a lot of engagement with all of the agency teams” on Biden’s transition.

“We’ve raised issues that we wanted to discuss with them, and they’ve been incredibly responsive and helped organize meetings,” Bradley said. “And in some cases, they’ve been the first to reach out. I think it’s a very professional, well-done transition, with systematic engagement.”  

To his point, Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen and Wally Adeyemo, Biden’s pick to serve as her deputy, last month held a virtual roundtable with the National Association of Manufacturers. They discussed the need for more economic relief, and Yellen “thanked NAM’s leadership for a productive discussion and expressed the incoming administration’s interest in maintaining an open dialogue and close working relationship,” per a transition team readout. 

Other executives and lobbyists who want to reach the transition team have two designated contacts there: Kenny Thompson Jr., a former Biden aide most recently an executive at Pepsi; and Theo LeCompte, an Obama commerce department official most recently with Uber. 

Once Biden takes office, the responsibility will go to Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who is set to head the Office of Public Engagement. 

But many of Biden’s other top hands are establishment stalwarts known to K Street, corporate executives and the donor class. 

That roster starts at the top of his West Wing, with chief of staff Ron Klain, a onetime lobbyist and venture capital executive; and it includes deputy chief of staff Bruce Reed, a tribune of business-friendly centrism over more than three decades in Washington; and counselor Steve Ricchetti, another former lobbyist.  

“The great thing about this administration is the people who are coming in to run it have been there before,” one Democratic lobbyist tells me. “They have a long history in Washington, and they don’t think history started with them.”

Democratic strategists tell me executives understand they won’t be dictating policy to the Biden team at a moment when the Democratic Party is shifting left. But at a minimum, they welcome a more orderly White House. 

“The one thing businesses crave from policymakers is stability, because they need to be able to make long-term plans,” Democratic strategist Erik Smith says. “When I am talking to C-suite people, I’m not hearing left versus right. I’m hearing about stability versus instability. Business leaders know there are going to be winners and losers; they just want a process in place with clear rules of the road.” 

President Trump’s bid to overturn the results of the election, including pushing senators to object to certifying his electoral college loss today, provides a final reminder of his unstable leadership. Executives have evidently had enough. From CNBC’s Sara Eisen: 

Against that backdrop, Business Forward’s reemergence indicates a return to a more organized, and orderly, routine. 

In an emailed invite, the group described the Tanden call, co-hosted by Small Business for America’s Future, as the first of a “series of briefings with President-elect Biden’s nominees for critical economic, climate, and health care posts.” Invites went out to the group’s approximately 100,000 grass-roots members — small-businesspeople across the country. 

Business Forward also functioned during the Obama years as an inside-the-Beltway forum for top corporations’ Washington hands to gather with senior administration officials, get readouts on the policy agenda and offer feedback. Democratic lobbyists tell me they expect the nonprofit group to revive that role in the Biden era. Business Forward did not respond to requests for comment. 

The group continued to operate in the Trump administration, but its profile shrunk dramatically, with revenue dropping from nearly $2.6 million in 2016, the last year of President Barack Obama’s term, to $571,000 in 2018, the last year for which federal records on its finances are available. When Democrats last occupied the White House, it charged companies $25,000 to $50,000 to participate in its briefings. 

David Segal, executive director of the liberal group Demand Progress, expressed unease at the emerging extent of the Biden team’s outreach to business interests. 

“It’s of course reasonable for an administration to communicate with people in the business sector,” he said, “but having these conversations stewarded by so many people who’ve been eating off of the finance sector in recent years, or who helped run an Obama administration that never meaningfully confronted the power of finance — and who will now run regulatory and broader macroeconomic policy — is concerning.”

Latest on Georgia

Warnock has flipped one Senate seat.

Ossoff is helping Democrats close in on flipping the entire chamber: “Democrats closed in on control of the U.S. Senate early today with a stunning come-from-behind victory in one of Georgia’s twin runoff elections and the lead in the second contest, races that could reshape the first two years of Biden’s term by giving Democrats a clearer path to enacting their legislative priorities,” Reis Thebault, Michael Scherer and 
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. report from Atlanta.

What a Democratic Senate would mean: “While Democratic priorities on issues like voting rights and immigration, as well as contentious proposals to expand the courts, would likely be off the table without GOP support, much of Biden’s agenda could pass via the same budget reconciliation procedure Senate Republicans used under Trump, which only requires a bare majority,” NBC News’s Benjy Sarlin writes.

“At the top of the list: A much larger coronavirus relief package. Democrats, including the Georgia Senate candidates, have echoed the president’s call for a round of $2,000 stimulus checks and want to fund state and local budgets. Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan calls for $2 trillion in investments related to climate change and $775 billion to help fund child and elder care, among other items.”

Bigger checks could be coming back:

A slew of progressives will also be in line for committee gavels: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is expected to lead the Budget Committee, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) the Banking panel and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) the powerful Finance Committee, per Politico.

That prospect is going down hard with some. From conservative economist Karl Smith:

Democrats may opt to pursue some priorities through the budget reconciliation process, which would require a simple majority to pass. The option enable Democrats to tackle certain pieces of their agenda, but not others, per Bloomberg News’s Steven Dennis:

Market movers

Markets are reacting to the possibility of an all-Democratic Washington. 

Treasury yields broke above 1 percent for the first time since March. “The 10-year yield, a key global benchmark interest rate, climbed as much as seven basis points on expectation that Democrats could win two runoff Senate elections in Georgia, paving the way for more spending to revive the U.S. economy,” Bloomberg’s Emily Barrett, John Ainger, and Ruth Carson write. “Investors have already started to dust off reflation trades in anticipation of a so-called ‘Blue Sweep.’”

  • The election is already registering in European markets.The prospect of more U.S. fiscal stimulus and stronger growth also spilled over into European markets, lifting investor demand for riskier assets such as stocks and leading to a slight sell off in government bonds,” the Wall Street Journal’s Sam Goldfarb and Joanne Chiu write. “The German 10-year bund rose to minus 0.543{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} from minus 0.584{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} on Tuesday and other European yields were also higher.”
  • Tech stock futures are off. “Futures tied to the technology-heavy Nasdaq-100 index fell 1.3{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} on expectations that a Democrat-controlled Congress would lead to higher taxes and tighter regulations on tech giants. S&P 500 futures were down 0.1{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49},” per the WSJ’s Will Horner. 

Stocks rallied Monday.

Traders are buying into a strong, global recovery: “The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 167.71 points higher, or 0.6 percent, at 30,391.60. The S&P 500 advanced 0.7 percent to 3,726.86, and the Nasdaq Composite climbed nearly 1 percent to 12,818.96,” CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Yun Li report.

“Boeing was the best-performing stock in the Dow, gaining 4.4 percent. Energy stocks advanced 4.5 percent — their biggest one-day jump since Dec. 4 — after Saudi Arabia agreed to voluntary production cuts in February and March. Chevron rose 2.7 percent. The news also sent U.S. oil futures up 4.9 percent to briefly break above $50 per barrel for the first time since February.”

NYSE may reverse its reversal on delisting: “The New York Stock Exchange is considering proceeding in delisting three major Chinese telecommunications firms after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin criticized its shock decision to grant the companies a reprieve …” Bloomberg News’s Saleha Mohsin, Jennifer Jacobs, Robert Schmidt, and Lananh Nguyen report.

“The NYSE’s potential pivot follows a whirlwind 18 hours in which the exchange caught U.S. officials off guard, with the exasperation reaching the highest levels of the Trump administration … Mnuchin entered the fray Tuesday, calling NYSE Group Inc. President Stacey Cunningham to express his displeasure with the exchange’s decision to let China Mobile Ltd., China Telecom Corp. and China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. keep trading on the Big Board … Also involved in the administration’s response were Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow.”

JPMorgan says bitcoin could be just shy of $150K in the long run: “Bitcoin’s market capitalization of around $575 billion would have to rise by 4.6 times — for a theoretical price of $146,000 — to match the total private sector investment in gold via exchange-traded funds or bars and coins, strategists led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou wrote in a note,” Bloomberg News’s Joanna Ossinger reports.

“But that outlook depends on the volatility of bitcoin converging with that of gold to encourage more institutional investment, a process that will take some time, they said. On Monday, bitcoin slid as much as 17 percent, the biggest drop since March, after breaching $34,000 for the first time over the weekend.”

Coronavirus fallout

From the U.S:

  • More than 21,060,000 cases have been reported; more than 355,000 have died
  • Los Angeles is running out of oxygen for patients: “Los Angeles County has been so overwhelmed it is running out of oxygen, with ambulance crews instructed to use oxygen only for their worst-case patients. Crews were told not to bring patients to the hospital if they have little hope of survival and to treat and declare such patients dead on the scene to preserve hospital capacity,” Fenit Nirappil and William Wan report.
  • Factory activity approaches 2 1/2 year high: “The strength in manufacturing reported by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) likely helped to soften the blow on the economy in the fourth quarter from the relentless spread of covid-19 and government delays in approving another rescue package to help businesses and the unemployed,” Reuters’s Lucia Mutikani reports.
  • Bankruptcy filings hit 35-year low: “Bankruptcy filings for 2020 hit their lowest level since 1986 as a flood of government support programs offset at least temporarily the full brunt of the pandemic and a related recession, Epiq AACER reported … The firm’s compilation of bankruptcy cases showed the Chapter 11 filings used to reorganize larger businesses still jumped 29{09c3c849cf64d23af04bfef51e68a1f749678453f0f72e4bb3c75fcb14e04d49} in 2020 to 7,128, compared to 5,158 in 2019, a tally that included major retailers like J.C. Penney driven under by the biggest economic downturn in a century,” Reuters’s Howard Schneider reports.

From the corporate front:

  • Increased new-car demand has industry optimistic: “GM reported a 4.8 percent increase in U.S. sales in the fourth quarter, while Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen AG saw their sales rise 9.4 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively … GM Chief Economist Elaine Buckberg said the U.S. automaker sees an ‘inflection point’ for the U.S. economy in the spring. The Detroit automaker’s average transaction price per new vehicle set a full-year record of $39,229 in 2020,” Reuters’s Sanjana Shivdas and Ben Klayman report.
  • BlackRock plans to stay put in New York: “Executives at the world’s largest asset manager have privately urged employees not to get too attached to doing their jobs remotely full-time, while it awaits a move to a new office tower in New York, where it’s based. With the pandemic surging across the U.S., the company extended the work-from-home period through this year’s first quarter. But that won’t be the new normal,” Bloomberg News’s Annie Massa reports.

The transition

Koch network urges Congress to certify Biden’s win.

Groups across the political spectrum want the shenanigans to end: “The move comes as several of the network’s Republican beneficiaries in Congress plan to object to the results,” CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports.

“The network’s stance coincides with Koch himself publicly congratulating Biden for his victory. Charles Koch says he’s looking forward to working with the new administration. Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity has supported some of the lawmakers leading the crusade against the incoming president.”

  • Trump lawyer resigns from firm: “Republican lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who advised Trump during his Saturday phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state in an effort to overturn the election, resigned on Tuesday as a partner in the Washington office of the law firm Foley & Lardner. Mitchell’s resignation came after the law firm on Monday issued a statement saying it was ‘concerned by’ her role in the call. The firm noted that as a matter of policy, its attorneys do not represent ‘any parties seeking to contest the results of the election,’” Michael Kranish reports.

Pocket change

Ex-Trump adviser Gary Cohn joins IBM.

He will be the company’s vice chairman: “Once viewed as a potential successor to Lloyd Blankfein as CEO of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs (GS), Cohn joined the White House shortly after Trump took over in 2017. But his tenure there as the director of the National Economic Council was rocky, and he left the administration in 2018 following a disagreement with Trump about the decision to impose more tariffs on steel and aluminum imports,” CNN Business’s Paul R. La Monica reports.

“For IBM, the hiring of Cohn brings the company a top executive who is familiar with the inner workings of Wall Street and Washington — if not necessarily the world of high tech … That could mean more strategic acquisitions or partnerships. IBM has made a big bet on cloud computing in the past few years, most notably with its $34 billion purchase of software giant Red Hat in 2019.”

GE won’t go after Jeff Immelt’s pay: “The company’s board won’t claw back compensation from former CEO Jeff Immelt and other executives over GE’s  accounting issues or Immelt’s use of a backup corporate jet, ending a three-year probe into allegations of misconduct at the conglomerate,” the WSJ’s Thomas Gryta reports.

“The investigation didn’t find evidence to support shareholders’ claims of fraud and abuse, and pursuing litigation against former leaders wasn’t in the company’s interest, according to the law firm that GE’s board hired to run the process.”

Qualcomm chief to step down: “The company said Steve Mollenkopf would step down in June after leading the mobile-phone chip giant through an unusually tumultuous period that has seen the company capitalize on booming smartphone sales as it battled one of its most important customers, Apple Inc,” the WSJ’s Asa Fitch reports.

“Cristiano Amon has been named Mollenkopf’s successor, handing over the reins as Qualcomm aims to exploit rising demand for superfast 5G phones and leave behind a period of legal struggles. Mollenkopf is to remain an adviser for a period after Amon succeeds him, the company said. As Qualcomm’s president, Amon, 50, has been the public face of the company’s efforts to become a central supplier in the shift to 5G, winning business with Apple, building on its share of the Chinese handset market and moving into new areas such as chips for autonomous cars.”


  • The Fed releases minutes from the FOMC’s December meeting
  • Congress counts the electoral college votes, the final step in the 2020 presidential election
  • The Labor Department releases the latest weekly jobless claims
  • The Labor Department releases the December jobs report

The funnies

Bull session

Some comedians edited audio of Trump’s weekend call to Georgia election officials, setting it to the tune of “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent”: 

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