The more than 50 lawmakers who will be jobless in a few weeks may encounter an unpredictable market on K Street, should they consider taking a spin through the revolving door.
Business interests feel bullish on next year’s potentially frenzied legislative agenda, stocked with tax and health care overhauls and debate over new infrastructure projects. But most lobbying groups have a tenuous rapport with the incoming Trump administration and are evaluating their hiring through that lens.
“You’re in a little bit of uncharted waters, with people still trying to figure out the Trump folks and who knows who,” said Kimberly Archer, leader of the Washington office of executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. “There are war rooms all over Washington looking at contingency planning, risk mitigating.”
For the soon-to-be-former members of Congress, who lost re-election bids or opted to retire, and their hundreds of aides, that environment may lead to big-paying new gigs. Others, especially Democrats leaving the Hill who will compete with more than 4,000 Obama administration figures heading soon for unemployment, may find a tough job market.
“Those members — and therefore, their staffs — who were considered K Street outsiders are going to become the new insiders,” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter with The McCormick Group, who is advising some of the departing lawmakers on their next career moves. “The few that are connected to the Trump team will yield a lot of influence.”
Though he may well end up inside the Trump administration, Republican Rep. J. Randy Forbes of Virginia would fit that bill should he go into the private sector. Forbes is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and has been mentioned as a potential candidate for Navy secretary.
Leadership, committee ties
Outgoing lawmakers say they’re still assessing their futures. None had filed notices of job negotiations, according to data as of late last week by the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate.
“I’m just regrouping with my family right now,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who lost her race for a second term. The New Hampshire Republican noted that she never moved her family, including her school-age children, to Washington.
Rep. John L. Mica, the Florida Republican who lost his bid for a 13th term, would bring valuable expertise to clients in transportation policy. He’s chairman of the Transportation and Public Assets subcommittee on House Oversight and Government Reform, and he serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure panel, which he once chaired.
“I’m not going to comment until after the third of January,” he said, referring to the official conclusion of the 114th Congress.
Also among those departing are Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. He and his aides, given their experience in leadership, would be highly regarded downtown, even though Republicans will control Congress and the White House.
“People who have been in leadership positions, party leadership or committees will always be sought after,” said Julian Ha, who leads the government affairs and trade association practices at recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles.
Still, Ha noted that his clients had recalibrated after the elections.
“The demand has shifted fairly dramatically from a need and desire to make sure they have access to folks who were in the Clinton world to now trying to figure out what the brave new world looks like,” he said.
Former lawmakers, in particular, often expect compensation packages in the seven figures. Some, such as former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, have gone on to mega-paychecks. The Connecticut Democrat made more than $3 million in 2012 at the Motion Picture Association of America, according to tax filings.
Other former lawmakers such as onetime House Speaker John A. Boehner line up multiple gigs, serving on corporate boards and as consultants to firms. The Ohio Republican joined Squire Patton Boggs earlier this year, but his compensation is not public.
Tougher road for Democrats
Former House members face a one-year ban on lobbying Congress, while senators are subject to a two-year ban, but they may lobby the executive branch during that cooling-off period.
Some firms shy away from former members because of their high salary expectations and, for many, a reluctance to register as a lobbyist. But some outfits see valuable potential team members in the 114th crop of departing lawmakers such as GOP Rep. Frank C. Guinta of New Hampshire.
“Frank Guinta, Bob Dold, Lynn Westmoreland would make excellent hires if they’re interested in lobbying,” said Sam Geduldig, a lobbyist with the CGCN Group, an all-GOP shop. Illinois Rep. Robert J. Dold was defeated for re-election and Westmoreland, of Georgia, retired.
Democrats with House connections may have a rougher slog, though Archer noted an uptick in donations to progressive organizations that may want to expand their advocacy programs during the Trump era.
Nebraska Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford was spotted walking near the Capitol after the election with former Rep. James P. Moran, a Virginia Democrat who is now a lobbyist with McDermott Will & Emery, but Ashford said he hadn’t determined whether K Street would be the right fit for him.
“I’ve got many experiences I can draw on,” he said, noting that outgoing Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who turned 74 last month, said recently he wouldn’t entirely rule out running for the presidency in 2020. “I’m like Joe Biden — I’m only 67 — I’ve got years to go.”