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Trump’s early policy moves benefit the industries he knows best — his own

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Donald Trump’s presidency has been good for business, with a soaring stock market, a freeze on new regulations and an Oval Office that appears to have an open door for CEOs. But Trump has been especially good news for the industries in which he has a personal interest: real estate, construction, entertainment, hospitality, gambling and, of course, golf.

Since taking office in January, Trump has made moves — from rolling back water quality permits to signaling big changes on overtime pay and internet betting — that benefit the fields he knows best. And his former peers — partners and competitors alike — are finding familiar faces in Trump’s White House and Cabinet agencies, who have the power to make even more of their wish lists come true.

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High on Trump’s list of early executive orders was one signed in February that begins reversing an Obama-era rule that gave federal protection to rivers, streams and wetlands — a big win for golf course owners and superintendents who say the rule forced more paperwork and made them unfairly susceptible to environmental fines. The president owns a dozen U.S. courses and has spent considerable time on his links during his weekends away from the White House.

“This is the first time a president of the United States is someone so familiar with private clubs,” said Henry Wallmeyer, president and CEO of the National Club Association, the trade group for private clubs. “That’s a unique circumstance.”

Wallmeyer credited Trump for his moves to unravel the Obama water rule and welcomed the White House push to repeal the Affordable Care Act and its employer-sponsored health coverage requirements. “It’s what we’d hoped to see from this administration,” he said.

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Golf course managers and private club owners are also among the groups watching to see whether the Justice Department will let stand a federal court injunction issued last November halting implementation of an Obama-era Labor Department overtime rule. The Trump White House has already frozen the regulation, and Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta testified during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he had “serious questions” about whether the department even held the authority to increase the overtime salary beyond the rate of inflation.

Other industries with ties to Trump say they’re bullish on the new administration, too. The Associated General Contractors of America released an industry survey before the inauguration that found three out of four construction firms expected to increase their payrolls this year because of Trump’s policies.

“President Trump’s approach to construction is very much in line with where our members are,” said the group’s CEO, Stephen Sandherr.

The real estate law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which represents the Trump Organization, published a survey last month showing two-thirds of the commercial real estate market expected a positive effect from the Republican president thanks to his push for deregulation, tax reform and the dismantling of the Dodd-Frank consumer protection law.

“From a real estate perspective, we’ve never had a president that will understand our issues like he does,” explained William Brown, president of The National Association of Realtors, which represents both residential and commercial real estate.

While Trump has feuded with Hollywood and some of its most prominent stars, the entertainment industry is also expecting to fare well with a president who knows their business model. Several industry sources predicted the new administration would take its side when it comes to contentious issues like intellectual property rights and maintaining tax provisions that protect movie studios when they make a clunker.

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“He understands what it’s like to have a brand and wants to protect it,” said a Washington-based entertainment industry lobbyist.

Trump has also surrounded himself with people whose business experience mirrors his own. A POLITICO review of the people in Trump’s administration found more than a dozen senior officials with ties to the industries Trump knows best.

That starts at the top with his son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner, whose family runs a prominent New York real estate investment business. Real estate is well represented throughout the West Wing: Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney worked in his family’s real estate business before running for political office; Reed Cordish, the president’s intragovernmental and technology initiatives director, is a prominent Baltimore real estate developer; and Chris Liddell, the president’s strategic initiatives director, previously served as CFO at the entertainment talent agency William Morris Endeavor.

Trump’s wing team also includes entertainment industry financiers Steve Bannon, now Trump’s top strategist, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Inside Trump’s Cabinet agencies are multiple staffers with experience in business areas the president knows, including Geoffrey Burr, the longtime chief lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors who now works on the Labor Department beachhead team, and Transportation Department chief of staff Michael Britt previously worked for the gambling industry.

Team Trump also includes several outside advisers who are longtime professional associates of the president. That list includes Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, one of the world’s largest private equity real estate investment firms, who is now working as chair of the president’s strategy and policy forum; New York real estate investors Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, who lead a White House infrastructure council; and Carl Icahn, a special adviser on regulation reform who heads a conglomerate with interests in real estate and gambling.

Nunes: Trump transition members were under surveillance during Obama administration

Hope Hicks, a senior White House aide who previously worked as a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, said Trump has hired an “exceptional team with a diverse skill set and experiences that are helping the president implement his agenda and deliver on campaign promises.”

The news hasn’t been all good for the industries Trump is most closely associated with. Commercial real estate executives are bracing for a business slowdown as the Federal Reserve hikes interest rates, and Trump’s travel ban has generated significant press coverage drawing attention to the diminished demand among international business and personal travelers to the U.S.

Forced to play defense, some industry officials have been playing up their ties to the president’s business résumé to establish a stronger policy connection. “It’s our hope that because of his hospitality DNA strands that the administration will come around to welcoming legitimate travelers, but to this point that has not happened yet,” said Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for the U.S. Travel Association.

Realtors prepping for a major overhaul to the tax code said they are trying to land a meeting with the president to bring home the importance of keeping in place a nearly century-old provision that lets individual property owners, small businesses and major corporations defer their capital gains or losses by reinvesting their money.

“I’m sure he’s done it a couple hundred times,” the Realtors’ Brown said.

Casino interests, meantime, applauded when Jeff Sessions during his January confirmation hearings to be attorney general said he’d consider revisiting the Obama administration’s controversial interpretation of a federal law that permits states to allow online wagering.

But the American Gaming Association is on its heels after Trump’s Energy Department included $120 million in its budget request to help restart the licensing of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository 90 miles from Las Vegas. Last December, the group issued a detailed memo of its policy asks — including blocking Yucca — that noted Trump’s history as a former casino owner who “understands many of the issues facing the industry.”

On Monday, the group’s government relations vice president, Whit Askew, wrote in an email to POLITICO that despite the Yucca line item in the budget proposal his organization “has been encouraged by the administration’s pro-business tone to promote jobs, growth and reinvestment.”

Ethics experts argue that the early spate of industry-friendly policy changes and personnel appointments amount to tangible evidence of the kinds of conflicts of interest that will keep coming up when a billionaire businessman is in the White House. They maintain that Trump should recuse himself on any decisions that affect the industries that his own company has a stake in.

“If it comes to the White House, it should be done by the vice president,” said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former GOP chairman at the Federal Election Commission.

But industry officials with ties to Trump shrug off the conflict of interest complaints, arguing the president’s focus is on helping the wider U.S. economy and not specific businesses. “I think he comes with life experience where he’s been frustrated when he’s trying to create jobs and big projects,” said Sandherr of the contractors’ association. “Those are the eyes he’s looking through and not how can I take care of my buddies.”

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