One of Donald Trump's advisers says the president-elect is no longer interested in his rallying cry "drain the swamp."
"I'm told he now just disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn't want to use it anymore," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in an interview that aired Wednesday on NPR. Gingrich, a vice chairman of the transition team, also predicted there would be "constant fighting" over Trump's efforts to reduce the influence of lobbyists and Washington insiders.
Trump's aides say he remains committed to his underlying swamp-draining policies, such as banning outgoing Trump transition and administration members from lobbying for five years. Trump also prohibits any lobbyists from joining his transition team or administration unless they de-register.
"President-elect Trump's ethics reform policies are full speed ahead," transition spokesman Jason Miller said. "We're going to change the way business is done in Washington and start putting the American people first."
Yet Trump aide Corey Lewandowski's decision to open up a consulting shop just a block from the White House shows that insiders will continue to play a role in the Trump administration.
Lewandowski, who was Trump's first campaign manager, and former Trump adviser Barry Bennett have formed a government relations and political consulting firm and are pitching their ties to Trump as they seek clients.
Lewandowski has been a fixture at Trump Tower in New York as the president-elect forms his administration. But because he never had an official transition title, he doesn't run afoul of Trump's ban on transition officials going on to lobby the government. It's also not clear if Lewandowski will register as a lobbyist.
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For Trump voters who had hoped he would shake up Washington, those may be irrelevant distinctions, said Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at the government reform group Issue One.
"'Drain the swamp' is one metaphor. I have another metaphor for this Lewandowski move and that's 'business as usual,'" she said. "It's hard to describe hanging out your shingle close to the White House after serving in the campaign as anything other than exactly the kind of insider access and influence that many Americans thought they were voting against."
Lewandowski decried the role of Washington's ruling class — which he is now joining — in a February interview with Steve Bannon, then the executive chairman of the conservative news site Breitbart. Bannon went on to become a Trump campaign executive and is headed to the White House as chief strategist.
"What you have is a series of people who've made a very, very good living by controlling politicians through their donations and making sure they get the legislation done — or not done — in Washington, DC, to best benefit their clients," Lewandowski said. "And those days are coming to an end."
In his new position, Lewandowski is cashing in on his Trump ties. "Everybody knows he will have access to the president," McGehee said, "and if you pay him enough, he will use it on your behalf."
"'Drain the swamp'" became a staple of the final month of Trump's campaign, with crowds chanting it as loudly as they had been shouting "build the wall" and "lock her up." The slogan also appeared on T-shirts and signs.
It has remained part of Trump's post-election "thank you" tour. Whether in Ohio or Florida, the crowd continued to shout along with the president-elect as he vowed to curtail corruption in Washington — even as he revealed that he wasn't always crazy about the catchphrase.
"Funny how that term caught on, isn't it?" Trump mused during a rally this month in Des Moines, Iowa. "I tell everyone, I hated it. Somebody said 'drain the swamp' and I said, 'Oh, that is so hokey. That is so terrible.'"
"I said, all right, I'll try it," Trump continued. "So like a month ago I said 'drain the swamp' and the place went crazy. And I said 'Whoa, what's this?' Then I said it again. And then I start saying it like I meant it, right? And then I started to love it, and the place loved it. Drain the swamp. It's true. It's true. Drain the swamp."
Gingrich told NPR that as the incoming president, perhaps Trump feels that "he should be marginally more dignified" than leading crowds in "lock her up" and "drain the swamp" chants. Gingrich said he supports Trump's ethics reform proposals.