So many former House Republicans are considering heading to K Street that not all of them are likely to find work.
When Sen. Heidi Heitkamp threw a party to thank friends and supporters at an Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill last month, Vic Fazio, a former congressman who’s now a lobbyist, saw an opportunity.
Fazio found the North Dakota Democrat, who’d just lost her bid for reelection, and pressed his card into her palm.
“We should talk,” Fazio told her, according to a person in the room.
Heitkamp has no plans to become a lobbyist, according to Tessa Gould, her former chief of staff. But the brief exchange was one of the countless quiet conversations taking place among many of the dozens of lawmakers who departed Congress earlier this month and the Washington lobbying firms eager to hire the best-connected among them.
While there aren’t many out-of-work Democrats like Heitkamp right now, more than 60 Republicans exited the House this month, and so many of them are considering heading to K Street that not all of them are likely to find work, according to interviews with lobbyists and headhunters.
“Former Republican congressmen are a dime a dozen right now,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who left Congress a decade ago and is now a lobbyist for Holland & Knight.
“I think there are still a lot of people who are scrambling and looking” for new jobs, he added.
“There’s not enough seats for everybody who wants in,” one Republican lobbyist said, comparing the process to musical chairs.
Former GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren, who lost his seat in the Chicago exurbs to a Democratic challenger, said in an interview that he’d met with law firms and trade associations about potential jobs in recent weeks, saying he’s “looking at every option.”
Former Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) is also looking for work on K Street, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Roskam told POLITICO that so far, his only gig is a fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, where he’ll lead a series of seminars — including one on lobbying.
Jason Galanes, former chief of staff to Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), wrote in an email to POLITICO that while LoBiondo is not planning to become a registered lobbyist, he hoped to “to stay involved in the issues he dedicated his Congressional career on, working with organizations in the aviation, maritime, defense and intelligence sectors” in some capacity.
Some prominent former lawmakers have already landed gigs in the influence industry.
Former Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) — who told POLITICO she’d “absolutely” lobby for foreign governments — and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) have signed on with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who left Covington & Burling last year to fill the seat of the late Sen. John McCain, has returned to his old firm, which paid him nearly $1.9 million in 2017 and 2018, according to a disclosure filing.
And Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) announced she would set up her own lobbying firm before she’d even left Congress.
Former Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), who’s now a lobbyist at Holland & Knight and has spoken with departing members of Congress in recent weeks, said there’s more interest among them than ever in becoming lobbyists.
“There are more members who have retired who are looking at the prospect of K Street than I’ve seen in” two decades, he said.
Ivan Adler, a headhunter who specializes in the lobbying business, compared the hiring process for former lawmakers to the NFL draft, in which the players drafted first typically come from colleges with standout football programs. The difference: In Congress, the big football schools are congressional leadership and the committees with jurisdiction over corporate America, such as the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Financial Services Committee.
That’s one reason Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was chairman of the House Rules Committee, is seen as a potential recruit for lobbying firms. A spokeswoman for Sessions wrote in an email to POLITICO before he left Congress last week that he was “exploring all opportunities available to him once his service is completed.”
Only 13 House Democrats left Congress this month, making them a rarer commodity.
Among that cohort, former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who lost a primary challenge to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is viewed as a top potential recruit on K Street. Crowley has had preliminary conversations with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Hogan Lovells, according to people familiar with the situation. He’s also been mentioned as a potential head of the Entertainment Software Association, which lobbies for the video game industry.
“Joe is considering all options for the next phase of his career,” a person familiar with Crowley’s deliberations told POLITICO.
Some of the most prominent lobbyists in Washington are former members of Congress, such as former Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) of Squire Patton Boggs and former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) of the National Association of Broadcasters.
But lobbying firms and trade associations have grown more wary of hiring former lawmakers in recent years, as Washington has become more partisan and fewer lawmakers have good relationships on both sides of the aisle. Lawmakers also struggle at times to adjust from having a big staff to hustling for their own intelligence on what’s going on in Congress.
But “there’s still that cachet that sometimes the right member can bring,” said Julian Ha, a headhunter who helped place former Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) last year as head of the Ohio Business Roundtable.
Not every lawmaker who left Congress this month is interested in becoming a lobbyist, of course.
Kevin Seifert, executive director of former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s political operation, wrote in an email that Ryan — who would be a prize recruit on K Street if he were interested — isn’t considering becoming a lobbyist.
Former Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) has joined Liberty University as dean of its business school. And former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) returned to his old law firm, Nelson Mullins, to work in its white-collar defense and government investigation practice — but not to lobby.
When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) claimed on Twitter last week that Gowdy was cashing in on his time in Congress to get a “fat lobbyist paycheck,” Gowdy shot back that she had her facts wrong.
“I’m not lobbying,” he wrote. “Not now. Or ever.”