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The Feehery Theory Podcast: Episode 15 – Let’s Make a Deal, Tax Cuts Without Reform, and High Steaks on Capitol Hill (w/Peter Mirijanian)

Posted on September 15, 2017


Watch the recorded live broadcast.


John Feehery: Welcome to the Feehery Theory podcast brought to you by EFB Advocacy simulcast on Facebook live. EFB means excellent for business. I'm joined by my colleague Adam Belmar and special guest Peter Mirijanian. John Easton's on assignment somewhere in Oregon. Peter is a Democratic strategist who once worked for that lion of the Senate Ted Kennedy and is the founder of Peter Mirijanian Public Affairs. He's my personal hero because he has flourished as a small business owner for almost two decades has a great party every year to market. He's got lots of really good clients and he does smack dab in the middle of the swamps. Peter welcome to the fury theory podcast.


Mirijanian: I am delighted to be here with you John and the man. I appreciate that generous introduction. I'm here at the World Headquarters I'm very impressed with your operation here.


John Feehery: Donald Trump met with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer the other night and presto they reached a deal on immigration. Republicans were shocked shocked that the president would talk to the Democrats and give away the store. This follows a deal he cut with Chuck a chance to keep the government open and extend the debt limit. Here's my theory. The president is going to continue to pull out his trump card and cut deals with Democrats when Republicans prove they can't get their act together and govern alone. This is good for the president and good for the country. That's an open question whether it is good for Republicans or for Democrats. Peter your thoughts on how this plays with your friends in the Democratic Party.


Mirijanian: I  think John you hit it exactly on the head. I think then he is it is a good thing that they're having this conversation. But I think that Chuck in the end you're going to realize what the Republicans have realized that that can turn other than he can sour on them tomorrow over something that is completely unrelated. Or something he overhears in the press conference or something. Chuck Schumer says so this is you know a moment that's more of a snapshot than a trend. But having said that I do think it does prove that Schumer Pelosi have some viability  now,


John Feehery: Well they are  definitely relevant. And I would say Adam one of the things that's interesting about this is how much grief Nancy and Chuck are getting from the far left especially on the immigration. My experience with immigration activists is they get really angry if they're not in on the deal and you know they know this deal. And people on the left and the right are pissed.


Mirijanian: You know I would argue that means it's a good deal.


Belmar: Well that is a very good indication that you've got something that's worth passage when there's pain on both sides. I was going to say that I don't hate the players hate the game. You know those guys and I agree with Peter that the president is the host of this reality TV show. He  likes to play let's make a deal whenever he can. And you know what. A deal is going to be made if you're not ready to do a deal these guys are ready to do a deal. Come on down for dinner. My favorite part though is something that President Trump is I think becoming pretty well known for. He has a meeting in his takeaway from it is usually quite different from others. And so as soon as that dinner was over. There was a deal. No that wasn't a deal. It was just a conversation. It's so hard to codify exactly what comes out of these things and the first person to the microphone is usually the winner. I would say the Democrats sort of got the upper hand outs here.


John Feehery: That may be true Peter. But do you think the Democrats won this or are they do they win by cutting deals with the president.


Mirijanian: It's too early to say whether they want it but they can put it on to at this point I think that what you're dealing with with this reality TV president is there is a chemistry with him and they are both from the neighborhoods up in New York one from Brooklyn from Queens. He gets him. He never really got the call. He never really connected with Ryan because he was never in the ideological lane that Ryan was. He was always this guy that loved to freelance and made it up as he goes along. I'm from New York. I know he made it up as he goes. I've seen his casinos and everything else he's done. So there is that underlying Schumer Trump connection which John I would argue. I think that's also a scares republicans.


John Feehery: It scares Republicans.  But it's good for Trump because you know what people are lovely people. So what's good for Trump is not necessarily good for Republicans especially conservatives. And what's good for Trump is not necessarily good for Democrats because you know Democrats they think that Trump is Satan. They've been saying he's saying he's the worst thing ever. And here's Chuck Schumer making a deal with the devil.


Mirijanian: I think it's a big mistake for the Democrats. I agree with you to do that because at the end of the day that 34 35 percent that his quote base is not Republicans and Democrats necessarily they are they are people who are fans of him and they want him to break the china in this town.   And so if he's if he's cutting that deal with the Chuck you're like See that's why we got him there


Belmar: in D.C. We often talk about those who can disagree without being disagreeable.  The president is always disagreable, OK. Whether he agrees or disagrees with you he's going to slap you and sometimes I like to say welcome to the NFL. That's  what politics at the highest level is all about. He called Schumer a clown and a loser. And they can pass really sort of hard core slights through the media. But there's there's absolutely no problem sitting face to face and saying OK we're going to bash you about half an hour. 


John Feehery: But let's I mean I mean the probe is a lot deeper. Yes I've always thought that the Trump administration is a New York takeover of Washington D.C. You're a New Yorker.  I mean is this going to be the Chuck and Trump show?


Mirijanian: You know John it's a great point. And again you watch and you have to wince at this although you know being in politically I'm not on the on his on the same side of him on a myriad of issues. But look at what happen with Jeff Sessions. Look at the news that's come out about the fact that he called Jeff Sessions an idiot, back in May.  SESSIONS You know he was loyal to Trump but if he doesn't fit the mold of a guy that Trump is he feels is not loyal or is loyal. Chemistry is so important that this guy from having chemistry chemistry with somebody and I do think it's in your take over of it. But I also believe that that's what that's what the Republicans in the house of the Senate are concerned about. But I would also caution that Democrats it's fickle this is the most fickle politician you're going to deal with. HIs  bond is not always his word.


John Feehery: Well I think that's right. I will say though that it's the ultimate irony that if the president is successful in building on some sort of DACA fix and get some modicum of immigration reform that the guy who pardon Joe Arpaio is the savior of the dreamers. That's got to confuse the hell out of everybody.


Mirijanian: And he loves that. I think he thrives on that right. He thrives on being the joker in the deck.


Belmar: No doubt about it. He's unpredictable. He is really feeling his oats. He's continuing to fit in there's something and I don't mean this is condescending as It just felt in my mind with like what I thought about saying there's something childlike about this discovery process for the president in my mind because he really is new to deal making on the political stage in the idiosyncrasies of procedure in the United States Congress where power lies what can be achieved with minority while still understanding that the speaker of the House and the majority leader in the Senate have enormous control to thwart him even though he's got a deal in principle


John Feehery: Theory Two: The Gordian Knot our tax code is a complicated not an spooling it piece by piece is very complicated and very difficult process.  If you take one piece out you have to put another piece in to pay for it. Most folks on K Street believe that the politicians in Congress don't have the will or the expertise to pass reform and they've largely given up trying. Most Americans don't pay any federal taxes but the people who do pay taxes are small business owners and they got sacked by a very very high rate. My theory the president is going to cut a deal with Democrats to deliver a tax cut that will largely benefit the working class Americans and maybe some small business owners.  He's going to chop the Gordian knot by not doing much in reform. Adam you've worked on tax reform for a while. How is this all going to play out.


Belmar: Well I agree with you John that the president is feeling a great deal of personal pressure. He's pressuring himself to make this. Now the thing that needs to get done before year's end and he's going to take every opportunity that he can find to make that happen up to and including not delivering on reform and just doing cuts I think the president is in a dangerous place. And I'll tell you why when he speaks people listen when he speaks we know that no one else really speaks for him and yet he has representatives and Mulvany Mnookin and others who are fanned out across squares and in Gary Cohen who are negotiating it's hard to negotiate in good faith when nobody necessarily thinks that you're speaking for the president United States.


Belmar: So what's going to happen. I think we are going to get a cut in the corporate rate. And I think if anyone should be worried at the moment it should be the folks at the top of the bracket who the president is likely to undercut and say you know what. You're right. No tax cuts for rich people.


John Feehery: So. So Peter, Richie Neal, who I like a lot. Ranking member of the ways and means committee. Smart guy. He basically said that listen if the president's going to do our kind of tax cut we're going to support him. You think Democrats could actually come onboard a tax cut that benefits working class Americans.


Mirijanian: Yeah  I think Richard Neal is one of the smartest guys up there and I think he's savvy he's been around the block and he gets it. Here's the problem. The problem is is the calendar. The problem is the fact that there is very little time left to something the the Obamacare repeal sucked up so much oxygen all throughout the spring and into the summer. I think that you are in a very short window. I think that when people talk about the 86 tax reform bill with Reagan that was two years in the making John. That was two months back. And my prediction is I don't think this is going to come together.  And I think Trump's going to pivot right to infrastructure and that's going to be the next thing 


Belmar: We'll lord knows there's been more than two years of intense labor going back to Chairman Camp on tax reform on the Republican side John.


John Feehery: Let me ask let me ask this question and I've been thinking more and more about this. There's been a lot of talk about the corporate rate and a lot of work done a lot of good PR work done on the corporate rate. But I would say that if you're a small business owner as we are small business owners we're all small business owners and you're paying a rate of 43 percent. You don't want to see corporate America get a break the 25 percent or 20 percent and you're like I'm good. I'm in competition with these guys. I want to become a big corporation but I can't because I've got to pay so much money in taxes. How does that square. What do you think. First of all this is not what you think.


Mirijanian: Right. I mean I think that we all I I mean my personal situation I pay quarterly estimated taxes I think a lot of small businesses do that.


Belmar: You mean your check went in just like ours yesterday.


Mirijanian: Exactly. So that's what we do. Now if there was a new tax structure that allowed me to sort of defray some of that and maybe bring on somebody I mean as you guys know I've been operating on my own.  I bring on 1099 consultants.  But maybe this would free me up to build up my team. So I think John that that is a reflection of not just me but I think you know businesses all around the country face that somewhere.


John Feehery: So yeah I'm fascinated by the characters that are trying to get tax reform. Kevin Brady for example basically saying I'll do whatever you want I'll put in infrastructure spending that gets me votes. I'm open for business.


Belmar: Yeah, That shocked me yesterday.


John Feehery: I thought that was pretty amazing and pretty spread He's a smart guy. Then he got Orrin Hatch who's you know the senator has been around for a long time. He's been holding on very deeply to this. You know this idea of tax reform that gets...


Adam Belmar: integration


John Feehery: Integration that gets rid of double taxation for companies. No one knows what the hell he's talking about but it's a very interesting idea. And then you have and then you have Steve Knutson who you know is trying to get a corporate jet for his wife on their honeymoon which is turning out to be kind of a big disaster.


John Feehery: I mean you know and he goes in and moves and goes and he says I want an 18 month debt limit. Chuck and Nancy come and say we want a three month President goes with Chuck and Nancy. Right. So how does this all work out.


Mirijanian: Well I mean you know again my my take on it is I mean I hate the dynamic between Cohen and Mnuchin is the one to watch. I think mentioned Cohn was the president's fair haired boy. He's bald and he was his fair haired boy until Charlottesville until he came on question. Then all of a sudden his stock went right down. Now is that for you know huge and I don't think Mnuchin was ever really close with the president. I  think he saw him as a reward for raising all that money for him was his finance chair. Yes he's got the Goldman connection but I think that was the big break in this whole process. But his light is now dimmed. So I think they're compromised when they go up to Adam's point. I mean who's speaking for the president who's who. You know. But. I find that pretty interesting John that he's willing to sort of you know put some more ornaments on the Christmas tree to get this thing done. Right.


Adam Belmar: And I I want to digress if you will allow it Mr. Feehery into some of the optics. You made mention of Mnuchin and the blue and white G-5. So choice if you have the means I highly recommend you pick one up.  This sort of optical faux pas with his beautiful Hollywood actress wife on the Eclipse when they took the G-5 out to Fort Knox to figure out whether the gold was still there and thank God. And they got a sneak peek at the eclipse. And then there was Louise Linton's tweets and stuff but now it's come out this week that they were going off on their honeymoon to Scotland and this was earlier this was previously Peter. And it turns out that the Treasury secretary thought that do you think that he'd have his own G-5. Well he certainly got all the resources to effect that trip and then they requested the plane and they figured out that it wasn't something that they needed or whatever and there was optically it was challenged. There are two things I want to say on this one. And Peter's done a presidential advance work and he knows that the pitfalls aren't just what goes on in that event but all of the things leading up to it and how things are can. But there was one when I first got to the White House as a deputy assistant to the president we were getting ready for a big foreign trip. And I had a very narrow but deep section of the communications portfolio and I had a lot of pressure on me Peter. And it was hey don't screw this up but what I didn't understand was how presidential travel works and how I was supposed to do what I was supposed to do was telling this to John the other day.  And so I think I've got to support the president. I'll put in to be manifested on the on air force one across the trip and of course I was slapped like you're not going on the plane with the president on this entire trip you're of no use to him if you're going there with him you're going to be there. I finally figured it out.  It's very hard to figure out how these things


John Feehery: The point the point here is that no one has a kind of learning manual I can learn by making mistakes and Mnuchin and did learn by making mistakes but you can kind of learn by making mistakes when you try to reform the tax code.


Mirijanian: Now look let's start with that and I'm now I'm going to show my age. OK Adam because I want to make some valid points from you know that story. But but you remember when John Sununu took the car or the plane to here to have to go to a stamp show or something like that with you and you remember that it was the first the first the first Bush White House was the first one I remember when he did it and it took a government either a car or a plane.  I don't know what it was. I think it was a car. I'm not sure to go to this thing. And he was out shortly thereafter. So again this goes back to the level of a guy like Mnuchin who so optically you know challenge in terms of you know how he how he's  comes off the monopoly board down to Washington


John Feehery: Keep in mind that Sununu had a lot of other problems. Sure  and that wasn't the reason why he got bounced but I know she is but she's also got the news on the Hill that the Republicans are but if you want something they can try.


Belmar: I want one more bite at this apple  which is just to say that the optics are not always fouled up by Republicans this month Harvard's Kennedy School of Government decided to offer a senior fellowship to Chelsea Manning which lead others including former CIA director to resign. I mean Harvard really stepped in it. There  are a lot of people making really optically Jones decisions.


John Feehery: And the better it is remember ever reminds me that who was that guy who was working for the Clinton administration and put his golf clubs on a helicopter.


Adam Belmar: He  took Marine One got to go play golf in the Clinton administration. 


John Feehery: He was trying to advance work .


Mirijanian: I am going to get a text from somebody from the Clinton days are going to remember who that was. talking about John King knows who it is.  But as I'm listening to this you say in terms of you know Harvard all this I mean are we going to talk about Equifax law talk about optics talk about tone deaf. I mean Equifax.


Adam Belmar: Yeah they really really messed that up.


John Feehery: Theory Three: Baker's Dozen.  Dusty Baker the Washington Nationals manager is revered in this city. People find him to be very likable. He's a former Marine and he's played an iconic role in the world of baseball. But if the Nationals don't win the World Series it's his fault. He has long had a reputation as a guy who puts too much mileage on his pitching staff and after watching Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez this week against the Braves.  Let me just say I'm worried . Peter I know you're a horse guy. You bet the ponies. Yes. Would you put even money bet on the Washington Nationals winning the World Series this year.


Mirijanian: Well let's go about getting getting to beating the Dodgers two weeks ago I would have said no chance. And then the Dodgers what would one of them. Yes I think I would.  =I think the Nationals actually have a better than even money chance that they would get there. As you know fans in this town for 30 years I'm surprised you're not a Cub fan.


John Feehery: I hate the Cubs and White Sox fan but the White Sox play in the American League and the Nationals play in the Nationals for the Nats. I'm  agnostic about the Nats   


Adam Belmar: I'm not a baseball guy at all. And in Feehery knows this.


John Feehery: Well let me just let me just say that this is not a baseball town Washington it should be because the Redskins stink.


Belmar The Redskins stink but we all revere the Redskins. Hail to the Redskins! 


John Feehery: I mean I sit there. I feel it bears fan. I'm well embarrassed and I'm more of Notre Dame fan and they they lost again too. But what happened the 80s they were right.


Mirijanian: We're three games out. I mean the Yankees are in a situation where if they win the division they're going to have to play Houston which I still think is a very good dangerous team if they if they get the wildcard if they win it.


Mirijanian: They may have to be in the Houston or Cleveland Cleveland one off what 29 we're going to end. That's amazing. Call me crazy. I'd rather see the play Cleveland than have to go.


Belmar: I think Feehery's just a little bit worried that he put down money for some great seats for the for the playoffs and he doesn't want to go watch the nats lose.  He wants to see tthe nats win.


John Feehery: I want to see that I'm very very nervous. I saw what Scherzer did they let they left Scherzer in there and he got really tired of the bases they bring in their relief pitcher and then let's have a grand slam. They lose to Atlanta like nine to two which is ridiculous. I went to the Gio game. Jus was tired. He has the second game row where he's throwing curve balls at my son Jack it hit. I mean my son is a good player but he's you know he's 11. And you know that makes me nervous. I went to the game last night and they won. So they're back on and they got this huge series this weekend against the Dodgers I think you know it's going be interesting to see if they. Where does their record compare. The Dodgers I think they're about four games behind the Dodgers right now so they can make up some serious ground if they catch the Dodgers. I mean that's a home field advantage. Pretty pretty sweet.


Mirijanian: OK so they would play the Dodgers replay if the Dodgers stayed in first the winner of the wildcard.  And you were like the Nats are going to play the Cubs.


John Feehery: I  think that's the most likely thing.


Adam Belmar: Topher Cushman and I will be watching the Redskins. How about that.


John Feehery: No Topher will also be watching the Washington Nationals - he has  season ticket. He's part of my season group. And Topher is a  good guy I will say that the Redskins suck.


Mirijanian: Go Big Blue New York Giants.


John: All right finally last question. What is your favorite steakhouse in on Capitol Hill?


Adam Belmar: I realize it's an Italian restaurant - but I love the steak at Acaqua Al 2


John Feehery: Do you like that balsamic steak or the blueberry steak. 


Adam Belmar: The balsalmic steak. It was recommended to me by Christopher Brown at EFB . I had it and I've been back for it.


John Feehery: And Peter you're not. You spent some time on the Hill used to work for Dutrow right above. Of those does not have a steak as far as I know.


Mirijanian: My cholesterol level went up to about 240. I was about bullfighters is now settled back so what's your parents take on something else. You know I don't get up here as often but when I do I mean it's been it's been a sea change I mean I've been in D.C. for 30 years.  And so when I would come up here was you know it was the Hawk and Dove and all these other tons of these great restaurants in Sioux City steakhouse and some others which I don't know about. I would have to say. Capital girl. Still good. I like it actually better than trawling Palmer. Palmer is good food but if I want a really nice steak to dig into I go to him.


John Feehery: I think the steak experience the Capitol grill probably better. I like the cheeseburger better. Although I shouldn't say that in the two and a tart. Why should I.   You know what. But I will say the best steak I've had in all of the city is Axwell doing the blueberry steak is to die of blueberries on believable. Very good try. You. That's right. I want also a shout out. You  know when I was growing up the big place to go was Morton's Steakhouse. One time I brought my my dad to Morton's Steakhouse and sitting right next to us was Pat Summerall. And at the table over was Dan Rostenkowski. And I remember this very very specifically you know my dad you know I bring him and he you know my dad used to like have a vodka every once and this Morton's steak steakhouse dinner. Your place was expensive and they had the smallest little martinis. And my dad was so angry about. I'm like a palace money from this little bit of vodka.  But I say that was but Morton's is still an iconic place but you guys used to go to the different Morten's right.


Mirijanian: Well let me ask is this going back to Chicago. No Jean and George have seen him since we're talking about in D.C.. Oh I come me when you're growing out of the limelight. When I brought my dad here you think he could afford to take his dad for a steak when he was growing up and right. All right.


Mirijanian: Well I still think BLT. Not the one in the Trump Tower but the one that 16th is the best steak in the town. Period. Black and Blue is how I like it. Which is a chore or Pittsburgh as they call it charged with a cool blues.


Adam Belmar: Yeah it's funny. We've been sort of dancing around Morten's. I think they do a fantastic job. Anybody who might be looking to retain the services of Peter Mirijanian of Peter Mirijanian Public Affairs will find Peter usually ensconced because he works all over the city but he really enjoys the balcony at Morton's downtown at 10:50 Connecticut. And I think that is one of the greatest spots really in all of Washington D.C. Really I love to be out there it's been a couple of years. Every day we would do what I like to cook cokes and smokes and go diet cokes.


Mirijanian: Well it really is it's a great spot. I mean now I'm a cigar smoker and and being out there in the afternoon and you can actually see people are actually working on their iPad and doing conference calls and they're having a smoke and it's just it's the life that to cover.


Feehery: Are you still doing all the betting for the horse race question all night.


Mirijanian: I think I'm one who stops you stop this you would still get it you would have had the winner of the Preakness and you would have gotten about 45.


Adam Belmar: How is Dew Cole?  Is he into you for a lot of money. Has he been avoiding you?


Mirijanian: No he's not avoiding  me. I know where he lives. I know where he lives. I know where he lives. But I appreciate you guys having me on this. This has been a blast.


John Feehery: Hey I want to thank Peter mere journey and from the PMPA for joining us today. You will usually say see Peter at Morten's of Chicago which we talked about earlier and he made a special trip to the Hill for this day and we really appreciate it and thank you for listening to the Feehery Theory podcast simulcast on Facebook live. This broadcast is brought to you by EFB advocacy. EFB means


Adam Belmar: excellent for business.


John Feehery: Yeah baby.