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Trump world lobbyists find life just isn’t the same under Joe



When Donald Trump took office in 2017, the handful of Washington lobbyists who could boast ties to him were inundated with calls from potential clients.

Six months into the Biden administration, several Trump-connected firms together are down millions of dollars in fees compared to a year earlier; one prominent firm with Trumpworld ties has collapsed, and another has withdrawn from Washington entirely.

“It’s definitely been quiet,” said Brad Gerstman, whose firm, Gotham Government Relations & Communications, once represented Trump in New York and helped orchestrate Trump’s 2015 campaign announcement before opening a Washington office after he won.

The lobbying firm ACG Advocacy saw its business skyrocket after one of its partners, David Urban, helped Trump carry Pennsylvania in the 2016 election. But its lobbying business diminished after Urban left a couple of months before Trump lost to become an executive vice president at ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok.

ACG brought in $2.5 million in lobbying revenue in the second quarter of this year, down from $4.4 million in the second quarter of 2020, according to a POLITICO analysis of its disclosure filings — a drop of 43 percent.

Shawn Smeallie, ACG’s founder, said the firm knew that its swollen revenues during the Trump administration weren’t sustainable.

“David Urban and I used to call it a sugar high,” Smeallie said in an interview.

ACG’s revenues are still higher than they were before Trump was elected, he pointed out, and the firm has hung onto many of Urban’s clients, including Comcast, Walgreens and 7-Eleven. The firm is bipartisan and boasts “one of the top Schumer people in the city,” as Smeallie put it, referring to Molly Allen, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Nevertheless, the dip in revenues at ACG and other firms, as revealed in newly filed disclosures, reflects how thoroughly Trump’s presidency disrupted the lobbying and consulting firms that make up the bedrock of D.C.

K Street always experiences shake ups when power changes hands. But the dearth of lobbyists with connections to Trump when he assumed office in 2017 drew a clutch of operatives with ties to him to Washington. While Urban is a longtime Washington lobbyist, others had limited D.C. experience, and their success in the capital was always tied to Trump’s. Many of them are sticking around now that the former president is out of power, but a Democratic-run D.C. has presented some, well, complications.

The Trump administration “was an aberration because it was so much chaos out of the gate,” as Smeallie put it. “Chaos in this industry tends to mean a lot more work, because people are nervous.”

Still, some lobbyists who arrived in Washington early in the Trump era are staying, even if their revenues have taken a hit.

Jeff Miller, a Republican lobbyist who is close to former energy secretary Rick Perry, set up a D.C. lobbying shop after Trump won and signed prominent clients such as Dow Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Miller Strategies’ lobbying revenues have fallen by almost half in the past year; the firm brought in $1.9 million in the second quarter of 2021 compared with $3.4 million in the second quarter of 2020. Still, it is on pace to bring in more money this year than it did in either of the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Dow Chemical and PhRMA both remain clients.

Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist who was a top fundraiser for Trump’s campaigns and who opened a Washington office after Trump won, has experienced a similar trend.

Ballard built his firm into one of the largest in Washington. But its lobbying revenues fell by about 26 percent to $4.8 million in the second quarter, compared with $6.5 million in the second quarter of last year. Still, many of Ballard’s clients decided to stick with him even though Trump is no longer in office.

“We talked to them about that, and they were very honest with us,” said Keith Wilkins, the city administrator for the City of Pensacola, Fla., which is a Ballard client. The firm assured him they were working to develop “relationships with some of the leading Democrats in the state of Florida,” he said.

With Trump gone, Ballard Partners has worked to adapt to President Joe Biden’s Washington. It hired more Democratic lobbyists this year and saw its revenue grow slightly from the first quarter to second quarter of 2021.

“We’re institutionalizing our business rather than getting the one-time quick hit,” Ballard said.

Other lobbying firms that thrived during Trump’s presidency haven’t fared as well.

Avenue Strategies, the lobbying firm started by Corey Lewandowski and Barry Bennett in late 2016, closed up shop after Trump lost. (Lewandowski cut ties with the firm years earlier.) Bennett subsequently started a new firm, but he’s registered to lobby for only a single client: America’s Power, a coal industry trade group.

And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s lobbying firm, Christie 55 Solutions, which earned more than $1.1 million last year lobbying the Trump administration, stopped lobbying for all eight of its clients earlier this year.

Bennett and Christie didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Not all lobbying firms with ties to Trump have suffered in Biden’s Washington.

David Tamasi, a longtime Washington lobbyist who raised money for Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, told POLITICO right before the Nov. 3 election that he expected his lobbying firm’s business to decline 5 to 10 percent if Trump lost. But he said on Wednesday that he was wrong: business hasn’t declined at all.

While his lobbying firm, Chartwell Strategy Group, brought in $435,000 in lobbying fees during the second quarter of this year — down from $550,000 in the second quarter of 2020 — the firm’s revenue in the first half of this year is higher than it was in the first half of 2020. The firm is bipartisan, which has helped insulate it from the transition to a Democratic White House and Congress.

“Last year was our best year, and we’re on track this year for an even better year,” Tamasi said in an interview.

The lobbying firm Michael Best Strategies, meanwhile, where Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is chairman, has seen its lobbying earnings balloon over the past year as it has hired former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and has given former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) a bigger role. Michael Best Strategies brought in nearly $2 million in lobbying revenue in the second quarter of 2021, up from $1.1 million in the second quarter of last year.

“Michael Best is one of the fastest growing and smartest shops in DC and we couldn’t be happier with our progress,” Priebus wrote in an email to POLITICO.

Michael Best Strategies’ rising fortunes aren’t necessarily surprising. Many K Street firms have seen their revenues boom as Congress has authorized trillions in new spending to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout, and as Biden has pushed for trillions more.

At the same time, it’s potentially risky for firms to hire lobbyists with ties to Trump at a time when Democrats control Congress and the White House, and Congress is setting up a commission to investigate the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters in January. The payoff, instead, could come years down the road if Republicans return to power.

“The risk is somewhat obvious,” said one lobbyist whose firm has discussed bringing on a lobbyist with ties to Trump to bolster its lobbying of Trump allies in Congress. “The rewards are maybe in 2023.”

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Cheney-McCarthy war of words heats up over Jan. 6 investigation



Liz Cheney is already taking public heat from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — and dishing it back — over her Democratic appointment to the select panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The relationship between McCarthy and Cheney has steadily deteriorated throughout the year, with an apparent peak coming when the California Republican helped oust Cheney from the House GOP’s No. 3 leadership spot. But tension is spiking again now that Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger — Donald Trump’s two most vocal GOP critics in Congress — are serving on the select panel thanks to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. McCarthy dubbed Cheney and Kinzinger “Pelosi Republicans” on Monday.

Cheney, as she walked into a prep session meeting with her fellow committee members shortly after McCarthy’s remark, told reporters she found it “pretty childish.”

“We’ve got serious business here. We have important work to do,” she added.

The back-and-forth comes after a series of clashes last week following Pelosi’s veto of two of McCarthy’s GOP picks to serve on the Jan. 6 investigation: Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio, both of them avid Trump defenders. The move prompted McCarthy to withdraw all of his appointees to the select committee in protest, describing the investigation as a partisan effort designed to hurt Trump and the party ahead of next year’s midterms. Republicans, however, largely opposed a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission earlier this year.

Cheney was part of Pelosi’s initial wave of names tapped to serve on the panel that will examine the deadly events of Jan. 6, when Trump supporters breached the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt certification of the ex-president’s election loss, forcing lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence to flee.

Following the GOP boycott, Pelosi on Sunday named Kinzinger to the Jan. 6 committee, giving Democrats two House Republican members who they say boost their panel’s bipartisan credibility.

Kinzinger, wearing a tie patterned with elephants, also called McCarthy’s comments “childish” during a break in the select panel prep session.

“He can call me whatever names he wants,” Kinzinger said, adding that the bottom line is “I’m a Republican.”

Still, McCarthy’s jab signals a remarkable shift from earlier this year. Cheney once served as his leadership partner before her frequent Trump criticisms prompted her colleagues and fellow leaders to eject the Wyoming Republican from a role that is responsible for the conference’s messaging.

These days, some of Cheney and Kinzinger’s fellow Republicans are openly speculating about their future in the House GOP conference. Asked whether the duo should face sanctions from their party for accepting Pelosi’s appointment to the inquiry, McCarthy said only that “we’ll see.”

But Kinzinger shrugged off the subtle threat on Monday: “If the conference decides” to punish him and Cheney, he said, it “says more about them than it does about us.”

Kinzinger also didn’t rule out calling his fellow Republican members to testify before the select panel, saying it was “important” to hear from them if they had relevant information. Discussions are still ongoing about the scope of Republican staff for the inquiry, he added, but he lauded former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) as a model for those hires.

No matter how actively McCarthy tries to tether Cheney and Kinzinger to Pelosi, who frequently appears in GOP attack ads, they both have strong conservative voting records to counter his attacks. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer noted as much, while arguing Monday that Cheney and Kinzinger are “real Republicans.”

“If anybody looks at the voting records of Mr. Kinzinger and Ms. Cheney, they will know that they haven’t voted with Speaker Pelosi except on the most bipartisan of bills,” Hoyer said. “These are people who come from conservative Republican districts who have represented Republican values. The difference is, and this is the key, they both believe in the truth. That ought not to be a partisan issue.”

Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.


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Bipartisan infrastructure talks in dire state ahead of pivotal week



The bipartisan infrastructure negotiations entered their darkest phase in more than a month on Monday, with the parties openly feuding over policy and former President Donald Trump urging Republicans to drop the effort altogether.

Democrats and the White House on Sunday night offered a proposal to Republicans proposing a deal on highway and public transit funding, as well as several other unresolved areas. That offer was intended to address all outstanding disputes — and was immediately rejected by Republicans.

The GOP sent out a list of areas where that Democratic offer broke from previous agreements among the bipartisan senators writing the bill on Monday afternoon, the latest in a running list of bleak sign for the talks ahead of another pivotal week of negotiations in the Senate.

The comprehensive offer “we received from the White House and [Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer was discouraging since it attempts to reopen numerous issues the bipartisan group had already agreed to,” said a GOP source familiar with the negotiations. “If this is going to be successful, the White House will need to show more flexibility as Republicans have done and listen to the members of the group that produced this framework.”

Two additional sources close to the talks, one in each party, confirmed the dire state of negotiations on a signature priority of President Joe Biden. Each blamed the other side for reopening debate on items once considered settled.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she is “confident” an agreement can be reached. But many struck a more dour tone in private. And Democrats said the frantic past few days was kicked off by Republicans rejecting an increase in IRS enforcement to pay for the bill.

“It takes a lot of chutzpah for Republicans to make accusations about keeping words when the biggest hole blown in the [financing] was made by them reneging on their agreement about enforcing the law on wealthy tax cheats,” said a Democrat familiar with the negotiations.

The talks seem in danger of collapse given the public acrimony and finger-pointing on Monday, after a fruitless weekend of discussions. The group of 10 senators leading the talks will huddle again on Monday evening, in an attempt to rescue the fragile negotiations.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers hoped to reach a final agreement by early this week after a vote to advance undrafted legislation failed last week. But that appears unlikely, with several issues outstanding. Among the biggest sticking points is transit, but broadband has also become a point of contention. The bill’s finances are also viewed as shaky.

A Democratic source familiar with the bipartisan discussions said that Democrats’ counteroffer included accepting the GOP proposal for highways in exchange for the Democratic proposal on transit. But Republicans dispute that characterization. A GOP source familiar with the negotiations said the choice isn’t binary and that the GOP offer on transit “was met with silence for three days.”

Funding for water infrastructure also remains unresolved, according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks, who accused Republicans of backing away from the original agreement. That source said that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) had reneged on a deal and “proposed something completely unworkable.”

A spokesperson for Romney called that “laughably false” and said Schumer is seeking $15 billion more than a previous agreement.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) both raised concerns about the funding last week, with Carper suggesting he would have a hard time supporting the package unless certain funding conditions were met. The snafu illustrates the tricky challenge the group of rank-and-file senators led by Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has in navigating around committee chairs.

As bipartisan negotiators aim to finalize an agreement, Trump said that Senate Republicans “are being absolutely savaged by Democrats on the so-called ‘bipartisan’ infrastructure bill’” and urged them to wait until they take back the Senate in 2022 to “regain a strong negotiating stance.” Trump tried unsuccessfully to cut a deal with Democrats on infrastructure, sidelining negotiations once his impeachment investigation began.

Although the bipartisan group and the White House announced an agreement last month on a bipartisan framework, translating it into legislative text is proving difficult. Schumer wants to pass the bipartisan bill and begin the process for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending package before the Senate leaves for the August recess.

Eleven Senate Republicans wrote Schumer last week to tell him they’d be ready to move forward as soon as Monday, provided the bill was mostly completed and its finances were in order. Neither condition was met as of midday, with senators convening late in the afternoon.


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Mortal Kombat 11 Surpasses 12 Million Copies Sold WorldwideGame Informer




Mortal Kombat 11 is the latest entry in a renowned franchise that has spanned decades. The game features a sizable roster with (literally) bone-crushing combos, a solid single-player story mode, and a continuously burgeoning multiplayer scene. Like many of the other NetherRealm titles that have come before it, Mortal Kombat 11 has reached an impressive milestone; it’s surpassed 12 million copies sold worldwide.

According to an emailed press release, NetherRealm Studios Creative Director Ed Boon expressed heartfelt words after learning about Mortal Kombat 11’s latest achievement. “When Mortal Kombat launched nearly 30 years ago, I never dreamed it would grow into the franchise it is today with more than 73 million games sold,” Boon said. “We have some of the most passionate fans in the world, and we appreciate the support they have shown us over the years.” 

It’s not particularly surprising that Mortal Kombat 11 has found this level of incredible success. After all, the franchise is one of the industry’s biggest video game dynasties – even Mortal Kombat Mobile has over 100 million installs! – that has spawned many television shows, animated movies, and live-action films, including the latest one that Brian Shea reviewed. However, additional content updates have stopped now that NetherRealm is moving to its next project. What the next chapter in the Mortal Kombat franchise will look and play like remains to be seen, but based on how beloved the IP is to millions of fans around the globe, it’ll likely be another well-earned success story for Ed Boon and co.

Andrew Reiner enjoyed his time with Mortal Kombat 11 despite some loot problems, concluding his review by stating, “Mortal Kombat 11 may have loot issues, but the combat has never been more rewarding. You can finish the entertaining story mode in one sitting, but getting the gear for the character you want could end up being more of a time-stealing tale than the one the game tells.”

Mortal Kombat 11 is available on current- and last-gen consoles as well as Switch, Stadia, and PC. Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is a more expanded version of the game that launched towards the end of last year; be sure to play that for the complete experience. 

What do you hope to see in Mortal Kombat 12? Or, more broadly, what do you hope to see in NetherRealm Studios’ future games?

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