WASHINGTON — Let the boasting begin!
It’s customary in the nation’s capital to hail members of the incoming administration by telling everyone in town how close you are to them. So many in conservative Washington lobbying circles and elsewhere are busy touting their relationships with President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers.
There’s a benefit to proximity to power, especially now. At a time when nobody really knows how the Trump administration will regulate drugs and medical devices, fund scientific research, or repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, relationships with the newcomers are viewed as critical to getting one’s issues on the table.
Donations don’t hurt, either.
Trump’s transition team is a moving train, so influencers are likely to jump aboard fast. Here’s STAT’s look at people and organizations in health care and science who are likely to have influence with a Trump presidency — and who else might benefit.
Former Representative Mike Ferguson
Not long after Trump’s victory, the law firm where he works, BakerHostetler, circulated an email touting former Representative Mike Ferguson’s “genuine connection” to Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and others on the transition team.
The message noted the firm’s “in-depth relationships” with “many people who are positioned for senior roles in the incoming administration” at the Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Ferguson, a Republican who represented New Jersey for eight years, “is in close contact with members of the Trump transition team during this critical time,” said the note. The law firm lobbies for Celgene, Advaxis, and the Children’s Hospital Association — and is ready for more customers.
In an interview, Ferguson said he’s doing his part to help Trump’s nascent team.
“I’ve been trying to get talented, knowledgeable people into the transition,” said Ferguson, noting that Andrew Bremberg, who has been tasked with leading the transition at HHS, is a lifelong friend.
Tommy G. Thompson, former HHS secretary
Although he initially endorsed John Kasich for president, Thompson made up for it in the eyes of the Trump team by serving as a founding member of the Bush Alumni Coalition Supporting Trump, which launched in late September. (Very late.)
Thompson, who ran the group, served as governor of Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001. He was also a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which lobbies for the American Medical Association, PharmAthene, and the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, among other health care concerns.
Thompson’s participation could also be good news for the health care companies whose boards he serves on: Centene, United Therapeutics, and TherapeuticsMD. He is a former director of Cytori Therapeutics.
Aside from his board work, Thompson is a director at PSI, a nonprofit global health care company that partners with pharmaceutical firms such as Merck, Pfizer, Bayer, and AstraZeneca. With pharmaceutical companies still a target for action on drug pricing, or opening Medicare prices up to negotiation, a friend on the transition team could be important.
Paula Stannard, lawyer, Alston & Bird
Stannard joined the health care practice of this law firm after serving in the last Republican administration as deputy general counsel to the Department of Health and Human Services.
She was responsible for food and drug issues and other matters, including federal health insurance and public health preparedness. On the Trump transition, she will be working under Bremberg.
“There are few people who understand the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act better than Paula Stannard,” said Ladd Wiley, an attorney who worked with both Stannard and Bremberg at HHS and is at Akin Gump, a firm known for its large food and drug practice. “Andrew and Paula are both personal very good friends of mine,” said Wiley. “Paula is about a smart a person as you’ll ever meet, Andrew as well.’’
But not everyone is happy about appointment of Stannard, whose firm has earned more than $4.4 million lobbying so far this year for health care companies and trade groups including Novartis AG, Verax Biomedical, the American Hospital Association, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Aetna — plus an untold amount doing legal and regulatory work, which does not have to be reported.
“I think this reflects the fact that Trump’s pledge to drain the swamp is not going to take place,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.
“Individuals who have close ties to regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals is worrisome, because such individuals are likely to pursue an agenda that is very industry friendly and not consumer and patient friendly,” Carome said.
Neither Stannard nor Bremberg returned calls seeking comment.
Holland and Knight
This law and lobby firm has a giant health care practice, and it has a respectable number of revolving-door hires in the pharmaceutical field, including some who are working on the Trump transition.
But, where Holland and Knight might be most valuable so far is in its astonishingly quick production of an in-depth memo for health care clients and friends on Nov. 11 — with an online Presidential Transition Analysis Center.
The memo, produced by a team of six, highlights Trump’s previous statements, corresponding rule or law, and prospects for change on issues from importation of drugs to Medicare drug price negotiation, medical research funding, and of course the Affordable Care Act.
The firm also put out a guide to all transition personnel working on health care issues.
“We have a group of folks who have been involved and are involved in the transition,” said Lisa Tofil, a partner in the firm’s Washington office. “We wanted to put out something more substantive for our clients, in terms of the roller coaster ride we’re about to go on again. We think that’s valuable.”
Asked if the firm’s hospital clients are especially nervous, given Trump’s comments about the Affordable Care Act, Tofil said: “The best way to describe it is they are assessing threats and opportunities. Let the discussion begin, it’s going to be a wild ride.”
Representative Marsha Blackburn
In a year when Tennessee Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn has led an investigation into the stem cell industry that Democrats call a “witch hunt,” her appointment to the Trump transition team raises a lot of questions.
Blackburn, chairman of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and an opponent of abortion rights, has accused companies that provide fetal tissue to researchers of “selling baby parts.”
The Alliance for Regenerative Medicine and others concerned about resources for scientific research are waiting to see how much clout Blackburn will have with Trump and his team.