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Donald Trump Expected To Have A Hard Time Draining The Swamp


Vice President-elect Mike Pence has ordered all lobbyists to be removed from the Trump transition team. After some initial stumbles, the team is vowing to keep a promise that Trump made while campaigning.


DONALD TRUMP: A five-year ban on White House and congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service...


TRUMP: ...Making a fortune.

INSKEEP: But running a government without any lobbyists can be hard. Here's Alex Goldmark from our Planet Money podcast.

ALEX GOLDMARK, BYLINE: Even Donald Trump admits it'll be hard to fill his government without tapping anyone who has sold their influence in the past. This is how he put it to Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes."


TRUMP: We're doing a lot of things to clean up the system. But everybody that works for government, they then leave government and they become a lobbyist essentially. I mean, the whole place is a...

LESLEY STAHL: But you're...

TRUMP: It's one big lobbyist.

GOLDMARK: Shrinking the power of lobbyists is one of those sensible ideas that good government reformers are always asking for but never really seem to get. So I called someone up who comes from that world.

LAWRENCE NOBLE: Yeah, I would - yes. I would say we run in good government circles or reform circles, yes.

GOLDMARK: That's who you hang out with in Washington?

NOBLE: Professionally. Now, my - I hang - you know, I have a lot of different friends from different areas, but yes (laughter).

GOLDMARK: Larry Noble is general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center and before that the Federal Election Commission - also, for a short little bit, a registered lobbyist. He and his circle are just glad that Trump is even talking about restricting lobbyists.

NOBLE: What's the expression, trust but verify?

GOLDMARK: He says, technically speaking, Trump has some pretty easy ways to follow through on his promise. He can just make all of his staff sign a pledge not to lobby for five years after they leave government. He could even make it an executive order - just write it up and sign it; he is the president - and then it's legally binding. It wouldn't even be the first time that a president tried it.

NOBLE: And Obama tried to do something like this. When he came into office talking about keeping lobbyists out and they started immediately giving exemptions, or pretty quickly giving out exemptions, to be able to get people to work for the government.

GOLDMARK: Some of the people Obama wanted to hire, the best people for the jobs, were lobbyists, so he hired a few. And after his ban, a lot of lobbyists changed how they operated, rebranded themselves strategists and then applied for jobs. So by the close of his second term, Obama ended up with more than a few of the usual power players.

And Donald Trump initially filled his transition team with lobbyists because, he said, that's all he could find. Still, Trump has another proposal he wants to put in place beyond the White House. He also wants to stop congressmen and congresswomen from lobbying for five years after they leave office. And for that, he would need a law - from Congress - which Larry Noble says is not likely to happen.

NOBLE: Congress has been historically reluctant to limit what its members can do once they leave office.

GOLDMARK: In short, Trump, like other presidents, is going to have a hard time draining the swamp.

Alex Goldmark, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF POOLSIDE'S "AND THE SEA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Goldmark is the senior supervising producer of Planet Money and The Indicator from Planet Money.His reporting has appeared on shows including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Radiolab, On The Media, APM's Marketplace, and in magazines such as GOOD and Fast Company. Previously, he was a senior producer at WNYC–New York Public Radio where he piloted new programming and helped grow young shows to the point where they now have their own coffee mug pledge gifts. Long ago, he was the executive producer of two shows at Air America Radio, a very short term consultant for the World Bank, a volunteer trying to fight gun violence in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and also a poor excuse for a bartender in Washington, DC. He lives next to the Brooklyn Bridge and owns an orange velvet couch.