Trump’s pick to replace Rex Tillerson is an errand boy for billionaires.
By John Nichols
In the Republican wave election of 2010, when Charles and David Koch emerged as defining figures in American politics, the greatest beneficiary of Koch Industries largesse was a political newcomer named Mike Pompeo. After his election to the House eight years ago, Pompeo was referred to as the “Koch Brothers’ Congressman” and “the congressman from Koch.”
Now Pompeo is positioned to become a Koch brothers–influenced secretary of state.
After serving for a little more than a year as Donald Trump’s top yes-man at the Central Intelligence Agency, Pompeo is Trump’s pick to replace Rex Tillerson, the administration’s listless placeholder at the Department of State.
In a measure of the extent to which Trump and Tillerson had disengaged from one another, the outgoing secretary of state apparently learned of his firing via Twitter Tuesday morning—when an aide showed the nation’s top diplomat a tweet from the president announcing the transition. A statement from the department indicated that Tillerson was “unaware of the reason” for his removal.
Tillerson displayed a measure of independence from Trump on issues ranging from Russian cyber attacks to the aggressive approach of Saudi Arabia to Qatar and other countries.
When Pompeo ran for reelection in 2014, he faced a tight primary contest with another local Republican who had Koch ties. One of the biggest turning points in that race came when the Kochs sided with Pompeo. “KOCHPAC is proud to support Mike Pompeo for Congress based on his strong support for market-based policies and economic freedom, which benefits society as a whole,” Mark Nichols, the vice president of government and public affairs for Koch Industries, told Politico.
Just as the Kochs have been loyal to Pompeo, so Pompeo has been loyal to the Kochs. He’s a regular at their behind-closed-doors gatherings, and he’s outspoken in their defense, claiming that President Obama and “Nixonian” Democrats have unfairly “vilified” Charles and David Koch.
But, of course, the supposed vilification has simply involved the appropriate questioning of the influence wielded by billionaires in general and the Kochs in particular over American politics and governance. That’s hardly an unreasonable concern, considering that, as one of the most prominent Koch-backed politicians in the country, Pompeo was called out just weeks after taking office for proposing legislative initiatives that “could benefit many of [the Kochs’] business interests.”
“The measures include amendments approved in the House budget bill to eliminate funding for two major Obama administration programs: a database cataloguing consumer complaints about unsafe products and an Environmental Protection Agency registry of greenhouse-gas polluters,” reported The Washington Post in 2011. “Both have been listed as top legislative priorities for Koch Industries, which has spent more than $37 million on Washington lobbying since 2008, according to disclosure records.”
“It’s the same old story—a member of Congress carrying water for his biggest campaign contributor,” Common Cause’s Mary Boyle complained at the time.
Now, however, it’s a different story, because Donald Trump wants to put “the congressman from Koch” in charge of the State Department and, by extension, the engagement of the United States government with a world in which the brothers Koch have many, many interests.