- A VIP Escort and Visit Inside the US Capitol while Dr. Blasey-Ford and Justice Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- A Private Audience inside the US Capitol, while two diametrically opposed, sitting US Congressmen simultaneously discussed the inner-workings of Congress.
- Lunch in the supremely-exclusive DC Metropolitan Club, while the Author of the 2017 Tax Reform Act talked about the formation of the law, its passage through Congress, and the future US business climate.
- Private insider meetings and Q&A with highly-placed Veterans of two Successful US Presidential Campaigns.
This is a sampling of the many exclusive experiences that we enjoyed on September 26th and 27th, when 25 CEO’s accepted invitations to attend CEO Coaching International’s “Inside Washington 2018” event.
I’m a long-time follower of US politics – an old-style “political geek” who grew up watching Crossfire, the McLaughlin Group, and Firing Line. I got a B.A. in Political Science, followed by an M.A. and Ph.D. in Public Law from the University of Southern California – specifically, the “study of law” instead of its practice, something only true nerds do. I remember the days when President Reagan and the Democrat Congress collaborated on taxes, cold war defense spending, and immigration reform. I was active in politics when two sworn adversaries such as President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich were able to work together to balance the budget and pass welfare reform. I can recall when politics “stopped at the water’s edge,” so to speak.
These days often seem long gone by – after the increasingly heated political rhetoric of President George W. Bush’s second term, President Obama’s two terms, and especially President Trumps first two years in office – complete with middle-of-the-night Twitter storms and childish name-calling on both sides.
In spite of this recent history, and the incredible acrimony in front of our very eyes while we roamed the US Capitol during the Kavanaugh hearings, the event managed to remind us that there is a path back to the days of pragmatic policymaking and civil discourse.
From our home base at the historic Willard Hotel, we were fortunate to welcome Simon Rosenberg, CEO of the New Democrat Network and an integral part of the renowned “War Room” that drove Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 and 1996 Presidential Campaigns. A consummate DC veteran and a leading candidate to run the Democratic National Committee, Simon struck a very civil chord while identifying the points of policy disagreement between his party and the Republicans, free of the name-calling typically seen nowadays on TV talk shows and college campuses. He was inwardly critical of his party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, when appropriate, and charted a practical center-left vision for his party and the country – bemoaning examples of undesirable extremism on both sides.
Afterward, we walked past the White House to King & Spalding, a highly distinguished law firm and among the most influential lobbying and advocacy offices in the United States. Our resource, former Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich of Maryland, talked about his experience appealing to independents to be elected in heavily-Democrat Maryland – and his tenure on the transition team for then-incoming President Donald Trump. Gov. Ehrlich was thoughtful and displayed appropriate humor when discussing today’s political environment, as well as the commonly-viewed “unconventional methods” of the Trump Administration.
Brock Jolly, CEO of Veritas Financial, was struck by this meeting in particular: “[M]y favorite part was the opportunity to rub shoulders and connect directly with former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich just a block from the White House, and to hear his unfiltered thoughts on the current state of American politics. An interesting, unique and impeccable event, and I’m looking forward to the next one!”
It was a refreshing “point-counterpoint” from two highly accomplished and hugely influential political leaders, and we left feeling like both could haveheld differing political views but engaged in a productive civil discussion had they been in the same room together. We would get the opportunity to witness such a simultaneous conversation later during the trip.
We were then lucky to be guests at the incredibly exclusive Metropolitan Club – a private institution founded by Union Officers in 1863 and filled with impressive history at every turn. Drew Maloney, the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Policy from 2017-2018, walked us through his work as the Administration Official responsible for negotiating, drafting and shepherding through Congress the 2017 Tax Reform Act. While the Tax Reform Act itself was a matter of heightened and sometimes heated controversy during its enactment, Drew demonstrated that the final legislation was the result of bipartisan engagement and a thorough process that allowed competing spheres of influence to guide the formation of the most reasoned and effective bill possible – one that could and ultimately did pass a divided Republican Caucus and a closely divided US Senate. Now outside the Trump Administration and serving as the CEO of the American Investment Council – the primary advocacy group of the private equity industry – Drew also shared his seasoned thoughts about the direction of the US economy, and his expectation that the tense fights over trade and sanctions would ultimately be favorably resolved. Rarely do business leaders have direct access to someone as influential and recently impactful as we did with Drew Maloney.
In the afternoon, we headed the US Capitol, where we took a picture on the steps of the Capitol, where US Presidents have been inaugurated for over two centuries. As we entered the Capitol building itself, the roar of protestors and counter-protestors could be heard nearby – Dr. Blasey-Ford was still testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the world awaited Justice Kavanaugh’s arrival.
A short distance from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room, we were treated to the simultaneous appearance and debate by two sitting US Congressmen – Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) and Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA). The two were not only members of opposing parties during an incredibly rancorous week in Washington, they also represent opposite regions of the United States, and are members of strongly opposing caucuses within the House: Rep. Takano a member of the very liberal “Progressive Caucus,” and Rep. Griffith a member of the very conservative “Freedom Caucus.” Despite these differences, and in spite of the tense political environment this week and this year, we were heartened to discover that Reps. Takano and Griffith agreed much more frequently than not, on matters of policy and good governance – sometimes to their own surprise!
Our time with Reps. Takano and Griffith gave us several specific “a-ha!” moments. Here were two Congressman from polar opposite sides of the country and the aisle – who had served 6 years and 8 years in Congress, respectively – who had never met until then. They recognized each other (they said), but “didn’t socialize.” They had every reason to believe that they disagreed on everything, but no opportunity to disprove that assumption, until then.
When we probed why they hadn’t socialized after many years in Congress, we learned that certain changes in Congress have unintentionally made collaboration more difficult. For instance, Members of Congress don’t go on trips together like they used to. In the past, the Foreign Relations Committee might have traveled together to Latin America, to learn what’s going on in Venezuela. Today, fearful of a so-called “political junket” being used against them in their campaigns, these trips almost never happen; and therefore Members of both parties come into contact less frequently with each other, and no deep relationships across the aisle are formed.
Moreover, we discovered that Members of Congress are under enormous pressure not to be in Washington. Attack ads from political opponents accuse them of having “gone Washington.” This, plus the extremely high cost of maintaining a household in DC, encourages Members to fly into DC during the week for office hours, committees and key votes, and then return “home” right away. So, they don’t get to know each other on trips, and they don’t have much opportunity to spend time together socially while they’re in town, either.
Finally, we discovered that a well-intentioned reform from earlier in the decade is backfiring, and that the two polar-opposite Congressman happened to agree on the solution. In 2011, the Democratic-controlled Congress, with broad bi-partisan support and President Obama’s assent, banned earmarks. Earmarks were special clauses within legislation to allocate specific funds to a specific project in a Member’s district. While they accounted for less than 2% of the Federal Budget, infamous cases like Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” led to a backlash against them, and they were ended entirely. The policy eliminated some unnecessary pork and indefensible projects, but it also jettisoned an important incentive for Members to work across the aisle to pass bipartisan legislation. No longer was it possible for a Democrat to go to a Republican and say, “Please support my bill,” and for the Republican to respond, “I don’t like it entirely, but if you remove this clause and support my request for $50M to strengthen bridges in Hurricane-ravaged coastal Mississippi, I’ll bring myself to vote for it.” When earmarks disappeared, good old fashioned “logrolling” did, too – they essentially got rid of all the logs.
Representative Takano – the very liberal Democrat from California and member of the Progressive Caucus – explained this phenomenon to us in a very reasoned manner. He called for reinstating earmarks, but making them transparent, so that no more “Bridges to Nowhere” would be approved. At this point, Representative Griffith – the very conservative Republican from Virginia and member of the rival Freedom Caucus – said, “I support bringing back transparent earmarks, too.” Two opposing Congressman agreed, and the look of surprise on Rep. Takano’s face was telling: “Oh, you do?” They didn’t know this because they didn’t socialize, and they didn’t socialize because of structural limitations in Congress. However, they proved that civil discourse works, and that when Members are able to come into contact with each other, they can find a lot to agree about. For many of us, this realization was the highlight of the trip.
Two days of intimate networking among 25 fellow CEO’s offered once-in-a-lifetime insight into the state of US politics, delivered by true DC Insiders, and reinforced a budding sense of hope that the US Government might get back to the business of collaborate, effective policymaking. What an incredible way for CEO Coaching International to kick off our series of ongoing regional events for members of our client, strategic partner and coach community!