Indian Wells, California — This morning, the Koch Seminar Network – more often referred to as “the Koch network” or “the shadowy Koch brothers” by gravely-voiced attack ad announcers – kick off their three-day winter meeting with the government at least temporarily reopened but the landscape in Washington deeply unsettled.
Thursday, Daniel Garza, the president of one of the Koch network’s affiliate groups called the Libre Initiative, met at the White House with officials in the administration to discuss a larger deal on immigration reform. Libre Institute president Daniel Garza told HillTv hosts the meeting, which included leaders of other Latino groups, was “very constructive, productive. We felt Jared [Kushner] was an honest broker.”
Kushner has proven the network’s most valuable negotiating partner in the White House, playing a key role in the criminal justice reform legislation passed late last year. Ideas in that legislation, particularly anti-recidivism programs in federal prisoners, were the centerpiece of last year’s winter meeting.
But two of the open questions as the Koch donors gather at the luxury resort outside Palm Springs are just how much can get done in Washington with divided government and the jockeying for position in 2020 starting already, and just what kind of a deal President Trump is willing to accept. Last year Brian Hooks, president of the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute, applauded the administration’s proposal of “legal certainty” for Dreamers, and indicated the network hoped the administration could go a step further for the Dreamers: “A path to citizenship is enormous incentive to continue to contribute to this country.” This year, the network is expected to push for a permanent solution to the Dreamers’s current legal status.
Politics makes strange bedfellows; this will put the Koch network on the same side as many Democratic lawmakers who have decried their allegedly sinister influence for many years. Earlier this month, Congressional Democrats rejected the administration’s offer of three years of legislative relief for about 700,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients in exchange for $5.7 billion in steel barriers. Democrats appear unwilling to accept a temporary reprieve for the Dreamers in exchange for a permanent structure on the border.
Immigration is certain to come up at some point during the winter meeting, but the main focus in the coming days will be the theme “unleash the potential in everyone,” with an emphasis on programs, organizations and legislative proposals that address problems such as chronic unemployment, drugs and addiction, and poverty.
The Koch network boasts, with some strong evidence, that it has become one of the most consequential forces in American politics, with what it calls a “permanent grassroots infrastructure in 36 states.” Besides the Libre Initiative, the network includes the most visible arm, Americans for Prosperity; Generation Opportunity, which focuses on Millennials; Concerned Veterans for America, which addresses veterans’ issues; and Stand Together, which endeavors to build social capital.
But 2018 was a rough year for some of the network’s favorite political allies. Governor Scott Walker lost in Wisconsin, and Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt failed in his bid for governor. Five of Americans for Prosperity’s eight “policy champions” in the U.S. House of Representatives lost in 2018. But the Koch Industries Political Action Committee donated to most of the winning 2018 GOP candidates — Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Greg Abbott of Texas, as well as senators Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Braun of Indiana, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota (despite the network saying they would not support his heavily-favored Senate bid because he was backing the administration’s tariffs) and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Another lawmaker who has addressed the winter meeting in past years, Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, is up for reelection this year and he appears to be in for a tough fight.