By Caitlin Oprysko with Daniel Lippman
October 4, 2023
K STREET AWAITS WHAT’S NEXT: Washington’s influence community once again finds itself staring into the abyss as the dust continues to settle around the historic ouster last night of Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, with lobbyists pitched into a holding pattern as the battle to succeed him picks up.
— “What a cluster,” Republican lobbyist Mark Williams of Ferox Strategies said in an email to PI last night. Williams said he’s spent much of today tamping down some of the “wild speculation” clients have been hearing about what comes next.
— “It’s definitely jarring for everybody,” said Dave Peluso, a partner at Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid and a former chief of staff to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). McCarthy’s removal “makes everybody reassess and take stock and reevaluate how they’re approaching the end of the year now,” he added.
— “Are conversations and timelines reset on things we’ve been working on, are they in the mix, are they out of the mix? I think that’s going to be everyone’s task No. 1 over the coming weeks, as things settle out,” he said.
— “For K Street … we generally like predictability,” Monument Advocacy’s Stewart Verdery said. “You’d like to know who has power and what their priorities are … so having this upheaval just makes the job harder.”
— Clients, too, “just want to know who are going to be the people and the personalities kind of driving the train for the rest of the Congress,” said Williams.
— While Speaker pro tempore Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) has pledged to move quickly on electing a new speaker, dodging the question of whether the House can conduct legislative business with him at the helm, lobbyists aren’t ruling out the possibility of an extended campaign to lead the fractured House GOP conference.
— “We could be in this mode for a while,” said Dave Schnittger, a principal at Squire Patton Boggs and a spokesperson and former deputy chief of staff to former Speaker John Boehner.
— “There’s just a question of how quickly folks can kind of get together” and corral enough votes to elect a new speaker, Peluso said. “Obviously in the beginning of the Congress we saw that that was a really high bar, and I don’t think much has changed in that regard.”
— That puts the squeeze on already-tight timelines for Congress to pass reauthorization bills for the FAA, Pentagon and farm and nutrition policy, to say nothing of the ticking clock on more shutdown brinkmanship.
— “For downtown it means the path ahead legislatively is more clouded than ever,” Schnittger said, arguing that “there’s a legitimate question about whether the new speaker will need to make even more concessions” than McCarthy in his bid to finally secure, and then hold onto, the gavel.
— For all the disarray atop the conference, though, lobbyists PI talked to today pointed out that the House was originally scheduled to be in recess this week and next, so if the speakership gets sorted out on McHenry’s timeline, the impact could be minimal. (Is this the K Street equivalent of girl math?) Even if not, it will likely be close to business as usual for committee work.
— Still, “your big-picture negotiations typically come from the four corners of leadership,” along with the president, Peluso said. “So the dynamics around all that … could shift pretty dramatically” depending on how leadership elections shake out.
— “This could mean everything or it could mean nothing,” Narrative Strategies’ Ken Spain told PI last night. “We’re obviously in a volatile political environment. Advocacy and public affairs strategies must be nimble and multi-faceted as things will remain unpredictable for the foreseeable future.”