Koch Network leaders blast Trump White House as ‘divisive’

Leaders of the Koch Network of conservative megadonors opened the group’s annual summer summit with harsh criticism of President Donald Trump, slamming his rhetoric as divisive and his push for a trade war as misguided.

This year’s gathering of donors was the network’s largest ever, with more than 500 donors pledging more than $100,000 apiece toward the network’s efforts, which include everything from backing nonprofits and universities to lobbying for regulatory rollbacks to attacking Democratic senators. 

The network, which has spent millions over the past 15 years to shape the GOP in its image, has had an up-and-down relationship with the president. It refused to back his election bid in 2016, but has succeeded in filling the Trump administration with allies who share its economic libertarian vision, often with the help of Vice President Mike Pence. It’s praised the president’s judicial selections ― and has said it will spend heavily to promote the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court ― as well as the GOP tax cuts. But it has broken with him on immigration and trade.

In a briefing for reporters, top Koch network officials said the Trump administration’s rhetoric was making it more difficult for politicians and Americans to find common ground. 

“The manner in which people engage public policy matters,” said Brian Hooks, the co-chair of the Seminar Network, the umbrella group that hosts the gatherings. “And it’s gone way beyond tone, way beyond tactic. The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage.”

“When in order to win on an issue, somebody else has to lose, it makes it very difficult to unite people to solve the problems in this country,” Hooks said. 

6 PHOTOS
David Koch
See Gallery
David Koch
Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" in Upper Manhattan, New York May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS HEADSHOT)
Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" in Upper Manhattan, New York May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS HEADSHOT)
Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" in Upper Manhattan, New York May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS)
EXCLUSIVE. Julia and David Koch, and their son host a party taking place at their home for the Charles Evans PCF Pro-AM TOUR 2012 Hamptons Tournament, benefiting the Prostate Cancer Foundation, in Southhampton, NY on August 18, 2012. The reclusive David Koch has a net worth of $25 billion. He is thought to have bankrolled the tea party, a connection however which he is evasive about. Strongly anti-Obama, he and his brother Charles have poured an estimated $400,000 million into the 2012 campaign. Photo by Art Seitz / ABACAUSA.COM
Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" in Upper Manhattan, New York May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS HEADSHOT)
U.S. businessman and philanthropist David H. Koch is seen with an unidentifed guest as he arrives for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala 2015 celebrating the opening of "China: Through the Looking Glass," in Manhattan, New York May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

HuffPost, along with other news organizations, was invited to attend the event after accepting ground rules set by the Koch Network, including not identifying donors unless they agree to an interview.  

A number of prominent Republican officials were set to attend the event, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is the GOP nominee to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November; Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is running against Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen in Tennessee’s Senate race; and Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is challenging Democrat Steve Sisolak for the Silver State’s governorship.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott were also in attendance. 

The Koch officials reserved much of their ire for the president’s trade policy, which has sparked talk of a trade war with China. James Davis, a network spokesman, blasted Trump’s tariffs as a “tax” and said they would hurt the economy. Alarmed by the president’s actions, the network recently started a multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort to promote the benefits of free trade, including seminars for conservative activists across the country.

“Protectionism is bad trade policy,” Hooks said. 

78-year-old David Koch, the younger of the two brothers who originally gave the network its name, recently stepped down from his roles with the donor network and with the family’s conglomerate due to ailing health. He and his brother Charles both made a fortune with Koch Industries, and have estimated net worths in the tens of billions of dollars.

It was Charles who first founded the network, gathering prominent businesspeople in 2003 to raise concerns over the Bush administration’s steel tariffs and what they saw as government overspending.

“We see some similarities today,” Davis said at the start of the briefing. 

PHOTOS: Trump meets with Putin in Finland

15 PHOTOS
President Donald Trump meets with Vladimir Putin in Finland
See Gallery
President Donald Trump meets with Vladimir Putin in Finland
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HELSINKI, FINLAND - JULY 16, 2018: The national flags of Russia and the United States seen ahead of a meeting of Russia's President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R), U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and First lady Melania Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HELSINKI, FINLAND - JULY 16: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'KREMLIN PRESS OFFICE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) (L-R) US First Lady Melania Trump, US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and his wife Jenni Haukio pose for a photo during their meeting in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018. (Photo by Kremlin Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R), U.S. President Donald Trump (C) and First lady Melania Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HELSINKI, FINLAND JULY 16, 2018: US President Donald Trump (L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin give a joint news conference following their meeting at the Presidential Palace. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin react at the end of the joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
U.S. President Donald Trump receives a football from Russia's President Vladimir Putin during their joint news conference after a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C), U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and First lady Melania Trump pose for a picture with a football during a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
HELSINKI, FINLAND JULY 16, 2018: US First Lady Melania Trump, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and US President Donald Trump (L-R) after a news conference at the Presidential Palace. Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump holds a football thrown to her by U.S. President Donald Trump during his joint news conference with Russia's President Vladimir Putin after a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story