Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Tuesday took aim at Donald Trump’s inclusion of lobbyists and industry executives on his transition team, blasting the president-elect for going back on a campaign promise to keep special interests out of Washington before he has even stepped foot in the White House.
“Mr. Trump described himself as a populist taking on the establishment, someone who would ‘drain the swamp,'” Sanders said. “Unfortunately what we’re beginning to see is what I feared, which is a lot of what Mr. Trump said to get votes is not what he intends to do as president of the United States.”
In a call with reporters, Sanders and Whitehouse urged Trump to adopt or strengthen ethics rules implemented by President Obama aimed at keeping lobbyists and special interests off his transition team and administration. The Obama executive order restricting lobbyists from working in the White House has not always been effective — the administration later issued waivers to allow some lobbyists in — but the order is generally cited by watchdog groups as a positive step toward reducing ethical lapses in the executive branch.
The Trump transition team has yet to publicly indicate what ethics rules, if any, apply to the lobbyists and executives now leading policy and federal agency personnel issues on the transition.
The corporate lobbyists helping to shape the Trump transition include Steve Hart, a tax lobbyist and chairman of the law and lobby shop Williams & Jensen, who is overseeing the Labor Department; Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist who is overseeing planning for the Energy Department; and Mike Catanzaro, a partner at the lobby firm CGCN who has represented Halliburton and Koch Industries. The transition is also tapping Wall Street veterans and billionaires to influential roles: the executive committee overseeing the transition include Steven Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner who is being considered for treasury secretary, and New York financier Anthony Scaramucci. Billionaire and Oklahoma oil executive Harold Hamm, who advised the Trump campaign on policy, is being considered for a Cabinet post.
“It doesn’t look like they’re draining the swamp, it looks like they’re pouring the swamp into the transition,” Whitehouse said. “If nothing changes, they’ll be pouring the swamp into the Oval Office as well.”
Sanders and Whitehouse said Trump should implement changes to lobbying laws that Trump proposed on the campaign trail: a five-year ban on members of Congress and executive branch officials who want to become lobbyists after leaving government, and a lifetime ban on senior executive branch officials from lobbying for foreign governments.