According to multiple reports, Billionaire David Koch is stepping down from his company and political organization.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo — In some of their sharpest criticism of the Trump administration, leaders of the influential political network associated with conservative billionaire Charles Koch on Saturday slammed President Trump’s trade tariffs as “protectionism” that hurts American businesses and consumers.
“The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage,” Brian Hooks, one of Koch’s top deputies told reporters. “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 of this country.”
Hooks’ remarks came as Koch and more than 500 donors in his network kicked off a three-day retreat, where they are expected to plot the network’s course on everything from their growing support of anti-poverty programs around the country to the tough midterm elections in which Republican control of the House is in jeopardy.
The network is expected to spend as much as $400 million on politics and policy in this two-year election cycle, further cementing its role as one of the most powerful forces in conservative politics.
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In one sign of the group’s political muscle, nine elected officials were expected at the gathering. That includes the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, and two Republican governors — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
The network, whose donors commit to giving at least $100,000 a year to the group’s top causes, has traditionally backed Republican candidates as part of their effort to spread a free-market message to all corners of American society.
Network leaders, however, have expressed growing frustration with what they view as runaway government spending, the administration’s hard-line policies on immigration and Trump’s tariffs battles with China, Mexico and other countries.
And they are increasingly signaling a willingness to work with Democrats as Election Day approaches, touting their efforts to work across the political divide on several issues such as criminal-justice reform.
In a video address shown to reporters on Saturday, Charles Koch warned that acting “in protectionist ways” erects “barriers which make everyone worse off.”
‘Bailout of bad policy’
Some Koch aides were more pointed, slamming Trump’s decision last week to use a program from the Great Depression to pay up to $12 billion to aid U.S. farmers hurt by the administration’s trade disputes with China and other countries.
Given China’s history of buying U.S. Treasury securities, Chinese money could help fund the farm bailout if borrowing is required.
“It’s a bailout of bad policy,” network spokesman James Davis said of the farm package.
“You can’t make this up,” he added. “We put tariffs supposedly to put pressure on China. Then, it actually hurts farmers here. Crops waste away in the field and then you pull a Depression-era program out to bail out farmers, but who’s underwriting our debt?”
The network has found common cause with other parts of the administration agenda, spending $20 million to advance the package of tax cuts Trump signed last year. And it will spend heavily to help win Senate confirmation of Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
White House official did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The summer gathering, held at the luxurious Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs, Colo., will also discuss many of the network’s longer-term goals outside of politics, from boosting what they view as diverse viewpoints on college campuses to investing in anti-poverty programs.
Stand Together, a fast-growing arm of the network, supplies money and management advice to 86 nonprofit groups around the country. The group, which started a little more than two years ago, plans to invest $40 million in organizations this year.
One of the beneficiaries: Café Momentum, a Dallas non-profit restaurant that provides internships to teens recently released from Dallas County Juvenile Detention facilities. Youngsters who work at Café Momentum, dressed in crisp restaurant whites, joined the donor retreat on Saturday, operating a pop-up restaurant with a menu that included grilled ahi tuna, smoked Texas-style fried chicken and baked Alaska.
No more ‘Koch brothers’
Charles Koch is one the planet’s richest men and oversees the country’s second-largest private company, Kansas-based Koch Industries, a sprawling conglomerate with interests in everything from oil to cattle-ranching to toilet paper.
The meeting comes months before midterm elections that could see Democratic gains in the House. Democrats need to flip just 23 GOP-seats to seize control of the chamber.
At the same time, the network, long closely associated with Republicans, also is undergoing a re-branding of sorts.
Charles Koch, 82, is one half of the influential duo known to many for years as simply the “Koch brothers.” But Charles Koch, who has been the leading force behind the brothers’ political and policy network since its inception 15 years ago, now stands alone. His younger brother, David Koch, left his roles with the company and the network in June. Charles Koch cited his brother’s deteriorating health in announcing the departure.
The younger Koch did not attend the weekend event.
His aides say Charles Koch still drives the group’s vision, even as Hooks and Mark Holden, a top Koch Industries’ executive, oversee the day-to-day operations of the network.
On Saturday, Koch appeared to reassure donors that he remains a vital force in the network as he urged them to stay the course in pushing their free-market ideas. “Stand by our principles at whatever cost,” he said as attendees sipped wine at an open-air, lakeside reception.
“I am not getting weak in the knees,” he added.
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