While Boeing is under control of the 737 Max 8, he can rely on a high-flying influence campaign

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WASHINGTON – As lawmakers begin to analyze Boeing's 737 Max 8, they will investigate one of the country's most powerful political actors, backed by a multi-million dollar lobbying budget and a direct line with the US. White House.

Boeing, based in Chicago, is the second largest US government group to suffer a setback this week when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) followed its counterparts around the world in failing the 737 Max 8 after two catastrophic accidents new questions about the aircraft software.

Boeing is now facing a test of its influence as congressional investigators examine how the aircraft was approved, the causes of the crashes and why the FAA delayed its stranding order. The Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing and the main Democrats in the House have promised "rigorous oversight".

Influence of Boeing

Like other major US employers, Boeing spends millions of dollars every year lobbying the administration and making contributions to the campaign. The company has spent $ 15 million lobbying in 2018, according to disclosure reports, more than well-known brands such as Amazon and Facebook.

In 2018, Boeing ranked 11th on the Center for Responsive Politics list of the country's best spenders on lobbying.

<p class = "canvas-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = "The company paid $ 1 million to the inaugural committee of Trump, The archives of the Federal Electoral Commission show. Boeing employees poured about $ 5 million into campaigns and political committees during the mid-term election last year, according to an analysis of the ECF data produced by USA TODAY. "Data-reactid =" 22 "> The company paid $ 1 million to Trump's inaugural committee, The archives of the Federal Electoral Commission show. Boeing's employees, for their part, injected about $ 5 million into campaigns and political committees in mid-term elections last year, according to a US TODAY analysis of FEC data. .

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p class=”canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm” type=”text” content=””This does not bode well for Americans who fly,” Walter Shaub, senior adviser to the Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics wrote in a post on Twitter. “Boeing donates $1 million to Trump’s sketchy inaugural fund and the U.S. breaks with other nations that have grounded the Boeing 737.”” data-reactid=”23″>"This does not bode well for stealing Americans," said Walter Shaub, senior advisor for Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. "Boeing donates $ 1 million to Trump's inauguration fund and the US breaks with other nations that have blocked the Boeing 737".

Trump and Muilenburg

Large companies regularly pay money to political candidates and invest heavily in lobbying. But what sets Boeing apart from most others is the care that Dennis Muilenburg, President and CEO, took to nurturing a relationship with Trump, owner of one of the company's aircraft, a 757.

This relationship has not always been so strong. During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized Boeing for the cost of his design for Air Force One, suggesting that he was "out of control". The Trump candidate criticized the company for installing a plant in China destined to finish its 737, claiming that it would remove "a very large number of jobs" from the country.

Shortly after the elections, Muilenburg sought to sort out the problem with the president during a visit to the Trump Estate in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. A month later, just days before Trump became president, Muilenburg appeared at the Trump Tower, praising Trump's "engagement."

When the time came for Trump to make his first trip out of Washington in early 2017, he went to a Boeing, South Carolina plant to tout US economic growth. The company then won a contract for the construction of two Air Force One aircraft for $ 3.9 billion.

"We have a whole series of political issues and topics we are working on," Muilenburg told analysts at a phone call last year. "But we have a voice at the table, which is encouraging."

A Trump cabinet member, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, spent more than three decades with Boeing as an executive before joining the administration in 2017.

Trump continued to praise the company even as he announced the grounding.

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Mixed form

Nevertheless, the company has had mixed results, responding to its political ambitions in Washington. Muilenburg personally spoke with Trump to lobby for the safety of the 737 Max 8. And the FAA was initially off the plane while Britain, France and Germany joined an increasing number of countries having suspended use in their airspace.

US regulators yielded on Wednesday, citing new information on the crash site and satellite data suggesting similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines crash Sunday that claimed 157 lives and the October crash of a flight Lion Air off the Indonesian coast passengers and crew.

"The pilots are no longer needed, but the computer scientists at MIT," Trump told Twitter a few days after the crash, a missive that preceded Muilenburg's call to the White House. "I see it all the time in many products, always looking for a useless step, when often old and simpler is much better."

<p class = "canvas-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = "FAA: "No basis" to order the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 despite international calls "data-reactid =" 39 ">FAA: "No basis" to order the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 despite international calls

Experts said Boeing had long been a major player in the Washington influence game, but said there was no evidence that the efforts made had anything to do with the FAA delay in anchoring the latest model 737. The federal government spent $ 23 billion with Boeing in 2017, a report released by the US General Services Administration on federal procurement.

"They are really good at capturing defense contracts," said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group and aviation consultant. "But there is absolutely no evidence that there is anything wrong with the FAA decision here."

A Boeing spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Aviation monitoring

Like many other Trump administration agencies, the Federal Aviation Administration does not operate at full capacity. Daniel Elwell, former Lieutenant General of the Air Force and pilot of American Airlines, has been the acting administrator of the agency for more than a year.

Trump launched the idea of ​​appointing his personal pilot for the FAA's leading position last year, but gave in to resistance from lawmakers.

The National Transportation Safety Board, on the other hand, is a five-member council that investigates accidents and makes non-binding recommendations on how to avoid future accidents. Trump named two of his five members and raised a third, originally named by Bush, as president. The council has a vacancy.

The NTSB does not investigate the crash of either Ethiopia or Lion Air. Foreign countries should ask the NTSB or similar European agencies to investigate.

Mike Slack, a pilot and a lawyer who has represented passengers and family members in accident cases, said Trump had no choice but to ground the Max 8 and Max 9 planes. Allowing the plane to fly would have made jobs lose – and American lives – and raised even more questions for the administration and Boeing.

"Is it to protect Boeing's competitiveness compared to Airbus, its main competitor? And why does Boeing's CEO call the President of the United States? Said Slack, a former NASA engineer. "This is not the right form when the background story is already that the FAA does not act."

Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but the costs are out of control: more than $ 4 billion. Cancel the order!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2016

Boeing's success

Boeing has mixed results in the Washington scorecard.

The company fought hard to once again authorize Export-Import Bank, an independent agency that provides loans to foreign companies to buy expensive US goods, such as aircraft. Congress reauthorized the bank in 2015, despite the concerns of many Republicans, who feared that taxpayers' money would benefit huge companies like Boeing who did not need help. .

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Boeing also took advantage of the fight to provide foreign carriers, including airlines in the Persian Gulf, with better access to the US market, which would help them sell more aircraft to their foreign customers. National airlines have generally opposed this idea, arguing that state-owned air carriers are a source of unfair competition for American skies.

In the end, the United States Department of Transportation allowed Gulf carriers to serve the United States, but demanded that their finances be more widely communicated to the public.

Boeing lost another major fight last year. When Delta Airlines wanted to import jets from the Montreal-based manufacturer Bombardier, Boeing opposed the International Trade Commission. The company argued that Bombardier's aircraft were subsidized by the Canadian government and, as such, represented unfair competition for their own aircraft.

The Commerce Department has threatened to charge rates that would have quadrupled the cost of Bombardier jets.

The Trade Commission estimated that Bombardier's aircraft would have cost about three times more than the ticket price because of these subsidies, but also refused to declare that the planes would cause injury to the US industry, blocking tariffs in a loss for Boeing.

President Donald Trump speaks at a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General in the State Dining Room at the White House on March 4, 2019.

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