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Top Koch network official: 'The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage'

The influential conservative Koch network opened up their summer meeting with an emphasis on bipartisanship while als...

Posted: Jul 31, 2018 6:31 AM
Updated: Jul 31, 2018 6:31 AM

The influential conservative Koch network opened up their summer meeting with an emphasis on bipartisanship while also delivering sharp critiques of President Donald Trump and his administration.

"The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage," said network co-chair Brian Hooks, who also chided elected officials who are "following" his lead.

The Koch network's influence, even among Republicans, has come into question in the conventional-wisdom-shredding era of Trump. The network has during the past year and a half fruitlessly pushed for comprehensive health care and immigration reform; and like other leading conservative groups, the network has been powerless to persuade the President to rethink his strategy on trade generally and tariffs specifically.

The weekend conference comes with fewer than four months until the midterm elections, as the network, led by billionaire Charles Koch, gears up to spend millions to protect Republican majorities in Washington. Yet the networks' leaders did not sound like they were on war footing on Saturday, instead highlighting bipartisan cooperation.

"It is radical, particularly given the divisive climate that we're in right now and how polarized and factionalized the country is in many ways," said James Davis, a spokesperson for the network. "But we want to focus on aggressively finding areas of common interest where we can make progress on some issues, even if we disagree on other issues."

Although the Koch network has not adjusted its spending projections for the midterms, its thematic shift suggests the GOP-aligned group could be contemplating a new power dynamic in Washington and its place in it. Indeed, in spite of significant investments by the Koch network and like-minded groups, Democrats have maintained an advantage in generic polling and appear as well positioned to compete for majorities in Congress now as they did earlier this year.

The Koch network has dabbled in working with and supporting Democrats when their interests have aligned, and the network alarmed some Republicans earlier this year when it funded a digital ad campaign applauding North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's support for rolling back bank regulations. Heitkamp is one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents this year, and her race could help decide partisan control of the Senate.

Briefing reporters on Saturday, network leaders also touted their past work on criminal justice reform with former President Barack Obama's administration. "I think we've shown we can work with both parties," said Davis, adding that the network "(needs) to earn some trust" among Democrats.

The group remains unambiguously pro-Republican by reputation. Only Republican elected officials plan to attend the Koch network's meeting over the course of the weekend, as is standard - including a few, like Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a candidate for Senate in Tennessee, who will count on the deep pockets of Koch network donors in competitive races this fall. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is also running in a marquee Senate race, will also be on hand, as will the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn, among others.

But the administration's tariffs have stung uniquely for this group, which traces its roots to 2003, when Charles Koch and a group of like-minded business leaders grew alarmed at the rapid growth of government programs and the implementation of steel tariffs under President George W. Bush.

"So, we find that there are some similarities to where we are today," said Davis.

In a video message that will be shown to the network's donors during this weekend's meeting, set on the lush grounds of the Broadmoor hotel here in Colorado Springs, Charles Koch warns that "protectionism is perverting the key institutions of our society."

The Koch network has pledged a "multi-year, multi-million dollar" commitment to fighting tariffs and other policies they believe are protectionist. "We see this as a long-term endeavor," said Davis.

Even beyond some glaring policy disagreements, the Koch network has not exactly enjoyed a cozy relationship with Trump, having voiced stark concerns about him during the presidential election and recoiled at his brand of Republicanism. Once Trump won, however, the network resolved to work with him where they could, and following his first year in office, their public view turned rosier. In January, Tim Phillips, the president of the network's political arm, Americans for Prosperity, touted the network's "partnership" with Trump and cheered the administration's work to roll back regulations and nominate conservative judges.

As the political ground shifts, the network is also grappling with a fundamental transformation of its own. The shorthand for the network was once the "Koch brothers," a reference to Charles and David Koch, its patrons and figureheads. But David Koch, 78, formally resigned from his role with the network earlier this year, citing declining health.

The network's leaders have emphasized that the group originated with Charles Koch, 82, while David Koch "came along later," Davis said, and focused his energies more on Americans for Prosperity, the network's political arm. Charles Koch has also for years established himself as the more public face and voice of the network.

"There's only one Charles Koch," said Davis, "but fortunately he's going really strong."

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect to correctly attribute the following quote to Koch network spokesman James Davis: "I think we've shown we can work with both parties," said Davis, adding that the network "(needs) to earn some trust" among Democrats.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319115

Reported Deaths: 7353
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22246264
Hinds20612421
Harrison18342316
Rankin13855282
Jackson13666248
Madison10213224
Lee10050176
Jones8452167
Forrest7810153
Lauderdale7253242
Lowndes6488149
Lamar632288
Lafayette6295120
Washington5412136
Bolivar4833133
Panola4659110
Oktibbeha465898
Pearl River4591146
Marshall4571105
Warren4436121
Pontotoc424573
Union415576
Monroe4154135
Neshoba4059179
Lincoln4007111
Hancock385187
Leflore3514125
Tate342386
Sunflower339391
Pike3366110
Alcorn323272
Scott319274
Yazoo313971
Adams304785
Itawamba304777
Copiah299666
Coahoma298283
Simpson297889
Tippah291168
Prentiss283361
Leake271674
Marion271280
Covington266683
Wayne264442
Grenada264087
George251851
Newton248563
Tishomingo230867
Winston229881
Jasper222048
Attala214973
Chickasaw210459
Holmes190374
Clay187454
Stone187233
Tallahatchie179941
Clarke178980
Calhoun173732
Yalobusha167740
Smith164034
Walthall135147
Greene131633
Lawrence131024
Montgomery128643
Noxubee127934
Perry126638
Amite125942
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Tunica107927
Jefferson Davis107633
Claiborne102930
Benton102225
Humphreys97533
Kemper96628
Franklin84923
Quitman81816
Choctaw79018
Wilkinson69332
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50817
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 547323

Reported Deaths: 11266
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson808021563
Mobile41925826
Madison35600522
Tuscaloosa26136458
Shelby25554254
Montgomery25067610
Baldwin21774313
Lee16234175
Calhoun14692325
Morgan14614285
Etowah14132361
Marshall12443230
Houston10748287
Elmore10295212
Limestone10180157
St. Clair10146250
Cullman9921200
Lauderdale9582248
DeKalb8955189
Talladega8441184
Walker7318279
Autauga7215113
Blount6925139
Jackson6900113
Colbert6394139
Coffee5616126
Dale4928114
Russell454441
Chilton4461116
Franklin430683
Covington4263122
Tallapoosa4117154
Escambia400280
Chambers3715123
Dallas3604156
Clarke352861
Marion3231106
Pike313978
Lawrence3121100
Winston283372
Bibb267364
Geneva256981
Marengo250565
Pickens236562
Barbour234559
Hale226578
Butler223371
Fayette217162
Henry193843
Cherokee187245
Randolph186844
Monroe179141
Washington170339
Macon163051
Clay159559
Crenshaw155057
Cleburne152543
Lamar145837
Lowndes141953
Wilcox127030
Bullock124242
Conecuh112930
Coosa111129
Perry108726
Sumter105732
Greene93434
Choctaw61725
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