When Henry Waxman announced in January of 2014 that he would retire from Congress after 40 years of service, he was rightly hailed as one of the most influential liberals, and one of the most skilled legislators, of his generation. Waxman’s list of accomplishments is astonishing – expanding Medicaid, strengthening of the Clean Air Act, regulating the tobacco industry, funding AIDS research, investigating steroid use, instituting, passing healthcare reform, and much more.
It was the sort of career that made for a good rebuttal to the moaning one hears about “career politicians” who spend so long in office that they acquire such pernicious traits as experience, savvy, and a general ability to govern effectively.
Waxman was as effective as they came. His famous hearing where he grilled tobacco executives broke the back of the industry’s political power. After one particularly brutal budget negotiation with Waxman, Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson declared that Waxman was “tougher than a boiled owl.” The assessment stuck, no doubt in part because Waxman actually does look like a boiled owl.
But of course there is a legitimate side to the concerns about politicians who spend so long in Washington – namely, that they “go native” and adapt themselves to its corrupt and cozy ecosystem, using all that experience and savvy to turn a wealth of political connections into just plain wealth.
And now comes the news that Waxman has as a lobbyist for telecommunications giant T-Mobile, as well as four groups that focus on healthcare and service employees. This was, as the Washington Examiner noted, a bit of a turnaround for the man that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution once called a “Lobbyist’s Nightmare.”
Waxman’s rather pathetic sell-out is made even sadder by the fact that he’s actually been trying to sell out for a few months now but had trouble finding takers. In February, the National Law Journal reported that Waxman had shopped himself around to major DC law and lobbying firms without success, and had instead decided to join his son Michael’s firm, Waxman Strategies. (The fact that Michael Waxman founded a political communications and strategy firm in Washington while his father was a powerful congressman is undoubtedly just one of those funny coincidences. Henry’s daughter, Shai Waxman Abramson, also works for the firm, making it a real family business.)
Waxman has also announced plans to teach at Johns Hopkins University and UCLA.
In the introduction to his 2009 memoir, The Waxman Report, Waxman suggested that the public is so cynical about Congress because they don’t understand how the institution works.
Perhaps that’s true for some of them. And perhaps some of them are cynical because they understand how it works all too well.
So long, Henry. Don’t let the revolving door hit you on the way out.