This article was updated at 5:50 p.m. on Nov. 15.
It’s pure physics. When Republicans pick up this many House seats, it starts a chain reaction. Democrats are displaced. Majority staffs change hands. Some careers are stymied. Others soar. This list of power players is about the men and women who are on an upward trajectory as a result of the election. They are the same people they were before the ballots were cast, but the election makes them much more important. They’re members of Congress, and thinkers, pols and wonks, Democrats and Republicans.
The list has some better-known names such as Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican who has been one of the self-styled leaders of the tea party. The lawmaker wants to be the ambassador to the old-guard Republican leadership from the Ayn Rand-reading, tax-hating insurgents who defined the 2010 election, and she’s jockeying for a more prominent role in the House as founder of the tea party caucus.
But the lineup includes several people who are less well-known. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the respected adviser to John McCain and the former head of the Congressional Budget Office, has a think tank, the American Action Forum, that hopes to define a policy agenda for Congress and the presidential campaign ahead. Barry Jackson is a longtime aide to Rep. John Boehner of Ohio who did a stint in the George W. Bush White House with Karl Rove. Boehner’s putative elevation to speaker makes Jackson more important than ever. Cecelia Munoz? She has the immigration portfolio in the Obama White House—placing her in the center of what could be some of the most-charged clashes between the administration and congressional conservatives.
The list is not meant to bestow good-citizenship awards. It doesn’t denote approval or disapproval. And we are not in the business of making predictions about how these new power players will fare in their pivotal roles. The important thing is that the election has realigned the constellations in Washington and, for now, these men and women are stars.
All year, Barry Jackson has grown his gray hair long, prompting corridor whispers that he looks practically revolutionary—as in the era of Revolutionary hairdos, when men could braid and powder. He refuses to pose for a picture. He refuses to sit for an interview. His staff is alarmed whenever a “Barry Jackson profile” is suggested. Jackson insists he is not media profile material—although as chief of staff to presumptive House Speaker John Boehner, he is the most powerful aide on Capitol Hill.
The modesty is itself a pose, of course: the power that dare not speak its name. But it is part of Jackson’s mystique, and it has served him well. He has never overshadowed his boss, and he remains a puzzle to the new House staffers just getting to know him since his return to Capitol Hill in January as Boehner’s chief of staff.
Boehner summoned Jackson after his longtime chief of staff, Paula Nowakowski, 46, died of a sudden heart attack on January 10. Jackson wasn’t looking to return to the Hill but came to Boehner’s aid. Ahead lay the possibility that Republicans would regain control of the House. Jackson turned his attention to what he knows best: melding policy and politics.
His imprint is all over the 2010 GOP manifesto, “Pledge to America,” just as it was on the GOP’s 1994 Contract With America during his earlier stint as Boehner’s chief of staff. Jackson is the only Republican staffer who helped shape both.
One of Jackson’s skills is casting policy in cutting political language. Another is using big issues to define big differences. It was Jackson who distilled the House GOP’s “repeal and replace” message after President Obama’s health care bill became law. His political senses are acute, and he has a way of turning dangers into advantages.
Consider the postelection interregnum. While House Democrats fight over the No. 2 whip’s position (Steny Hoyer of Maryland versus James Clyburn of South Carolina), Republicans look on serenely, with no fights of their own to suppress. Jackson is a big reason why. He anticipated a possible showdown for the No. 3 slot, House majority whip, and counseled Boehner to clear a path for up-and-comer Kevin McCarthy of California, an ally of No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor, who is now somewhat indebted to Boehner. The other contender, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, followed Boehner’s advice and agreed to remain as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Quarrel averted. Boehner, with Jackson’s help, also eased the way for Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas to become conference chairman, the No. 4 leadership position. Hensarling, too, was once a staunch Cantor ally; now his ties to Boehner are stronger.
Jackson has detractors. Some say his political instincts are too protective of Boehner, and that his tendency to personalize disagreements is unhelpful. For now, however, he is credited with stabilizing Boehner’s office after Nowakowski’s death and with keeping his boss steady as the wave carried them both back to power.
Even after their huge electoral victories last week, Republicans cannot repeal the health care law as long as Democrats control the Senate and the White House. However, they have a shot at dismantling it, using the power of the purse and their control of the House Appropriations Committee. The man most likely to plot this strategy is Jeff Shockey, the Appropriations Committee’s Republican staff director and a longtime aide to Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., the panel’s ranking member and likely next chairman. (Lewis is expected to fend off a challenge for the chairmanship from Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky.)
Under Shockey’s technical guidance, House Appropriations Republicans will have many tools to change the health care law through must-pass appropriations legislation. These include rescinding funds for established programs; attaching riders to stop agencies from spending money on implementation; and rewriting regulations on essential parts of the law, such as the provisions on insurance exchanges and medical loss ratios.
A former Republican staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the chairmanship race, said that Shockey and his staff would excel at picking apart the health care law through appropriations, thanks to Shockey’s technical experience and his “good political ear.” Political skill on the staff level will be essential in Shockey’s position, if Republicans want to get their spending measures through a Democratic Senate and signed by President Obama. Shockey declined an interview for this profile.
Democratic staffers who have worked with Shockey in the House and Senate say he is a professional who is knowledgeable about health care issues and can be a tough negotiator when necessary. He is well versed in the quirks of the Senate’s appropriations process, a crucial skill in the coming clashes between the chambers over spending.
Shockey is close to the House Republican leadership, according to former and current Republican and Democratic staffers, but is also expected to get on better with the Democratic minority following the retirement of Appropriations Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin, who had a prickly relationship at best with Lewis and other Republicans on the panel.
The 44-year-old Shockey has some baggage. He became part of Lewis’s staff in 1991, but left Capitol Hill in 1999 to join a lobbying firm with former Rep. Bill Lowery, R-Calif., a close colleague of Lewis. Shockey emerged relatively unscathed from a federal investigation into dealings between Lewis and Lowery. But after rejoining Lewis’s staff in 2005, when his boss took over the Appropriations gavel, Shockey got some bad press for amending his 2004 financial disclosure form to show $2 million in yearly income instead of $1.5 million. The House Ethics Committee cleared him of any wrongdoing.
The two most prominent conservative firebrands in the Senate are Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn and South Carolina’s Jim DeMint. DeMint is widely acclaimed as the new tea party champion, but Coburn has come to command more respect among Senate Republicans and will end up having more influence.
Next week, Coburn and DeMint will join forces to propose to the Senate Republican Conference a ban on earmarks for the coming year. It will be part of the effort to keep a campaign promise that aided the GOP’s midterm success. But the Republican senators who will vote on the ban see the two senators as representing quite different approaches to power. DeMint, many say, has made a habit of challenging his party to boost his own profile. Coburn is seen as less opportunistic. He has taken a consistent line on the budget for years, admirers say, and the mood of the party has finally swung behind him. Once regarded as a bomb-throwing hazard on fiscal issues, he is now the respected voice.
Coburn called the Republicans’ electoral success a test for his party. “What I’ve been talking about for about six years, Americans are embracing,” he told National Journal. “We’ll just see if Republicans go there.” He added, “If Republicans don’t get it, we’re history,” warning that a lack of ideological consistency from even “three or four members” on spending could cause messaging and image difficulties for the party.
With a big class of freshmen arriving for orientation next week, Senate Republican leaders see Coburn, 62, as the veteran conservative best positioned to act as a model and spokesman for an expanded group of spending-cutters, while also carrying weight with the leaders themselves. Surprisingly, for such a fiscal conservative, he has cordial relations with Barack Obama. The two men were friends in the Senate, and the president once called him the kind of conservative he could work with. Nothing came of it, but the Democrats’ narrowed majority in the Senate may cause that conversation to resume.
A business executive who became a family doctor at 35 after a diagnosis of melanoma, Coburn joined the House in 1994. He left in 2000, honoring a self-imposed three-term limit. In a 2003 book subtitled, How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders, he ripped former House GOP leaders for betraying their supporters. Voters, Coburn said, “are grown-ups, not kids,” and they demand honesty even if “some of it is gonna be bitter.”
Lawmakers must “make the hard choices, even if you lose your seat,” he contended. Coburn, who said that his role in the next Congress “remains to be seen,” attributed his ability to disagree with colleagues without rancor to consistency and communication. “I am a known factor. I have created an expectation that I am always going to try to get things to be paid for,” Coburn said. And he is not Jim DeMint.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., drew attention in her first month as a House member when she grabbed President Bush’s shoulder and planted a huge kiss on him as he was leaving the House after his 2007 State of the Union speech. Her conservative activism, controversial positions, and flair for publicity have kept her in the public eye ever since. The most recognizable face and voice of the tea party in the House, Bachmann is now in a position to consolidate the movement’s gains of last week into real influence on the Hill.
Bachmann, 54, describes herself as a motivational force behind the anti-establishment wave. Her deft handling of conservative media, her frequent references to prayer and Christian values, and her appetite for controversy have helped make her one of the most prominent figures in modern conservatism—and one of the most lampooned.
Bachmann’s grander ambitions were behind her short-lived bid for the GOP House Conference chairmanship, the No. 4-ranked job in the new Republican majority, after just two terms. In an interview before she dropped out of the race on Wednesday night, Bachmann said she has been an effective voice for bringing together “a disunified cross section of independent-minded tea party people into supporting our [GOP] candidates.” If she can solidify that reputation, she will be a significant political force in the new Congress, even without a formal leadership post.
From the start, Bachmann appeared an unlikely candidate for the No. 4 spot, given her penchant for eyebrow-raising incidents. The latest: Her eccentric, and unsupported, claim that President Obama’s India trip will cost “$200 million per day.” A string of other statements have included claims that Obama represents the United States’ final leap to socialism, and that Obama is turning America into a nation of slaves.
In the end, Bachmann couldn’t overcome the fact that House GOP leaders were backing Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas for the conference chairmanship. But the leaders’ decision could prove more of a problem for them than for her. “She really is a sort of dilemma for her party’s leaders,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University.
Although she is regarded as something of a loose cannon in GOP ranks, Bachmann is taken seriously by “a lot of people out there who pay attention to her,” Baker added. She is the founder of the 52-member House tea party caucus, vows to form a new caucus of “constitutional conservatives,” and is a big fundraiser. Recent Federal Election Commission reports show that she raised more than $11 million for her reelection campaign—more than any other House member (she says that updated FEC reports will show more than $13 million raised)—and spent more than $8.6 million.
At the same time, presumptive Speaker John Boehner has aspirations to operate the GOP’s House majority in a statesmanlike manner. And those aims might not always square with the tea party “energy” that Bachmann has promised to represent.
For now, Bachmann downplays talk that she may be eyeing higher office, such as a spot on a national ticket in 2012. She says she is “living the dream” of being a voice for conservatism, and the tea party, in Congress.
It took half a year for Douglas Holtz-Eakin to bounce back from the crushing defeat of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 presidential election. “I drank for two weeks and slept for two months,” said Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s top economic policy adviser during the long campaign.
Today, at 57, Holtz-Eakin has not only reentered the land of the living but also become a ubiquitous Washington defender of Republican policies to slash taxes and spending. As president of the American Action Forum, a think tank devoted to “smaller, smarter government,” Holtz-Eakin supplies the numbers, the credibility, and the one-liners to defend, for example, tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners. Many of his arguments for GOP positions are adopted, then tirelessly repeated, by Republican leaders.
“This is a start-up organization, and it takes all my time,” he said of the American Action Forum. “It exists to explore policy ideas, and, yes, it will do that” for the revitalized GOP and for any lawmakers who seek the group’s help, he said. “But that’s an advisory role.”
What makes Holtz-Eakin important to Republicans is that he combines the credibility of a respected economist with the flair for persuasion of a skilled polemicist. As director of the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 through 2005, he earned widespread praise from Democrats for his impartial analysis. Now, as a dedicated champion of Republican policies, he makes sure to get the party’s message across.
Holtz-Eakin taught economics from 1985 to 2001, first at Columbia University and then at Syracuse University, before becoming the chief economist for the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. There he planted the seeds for the famous Bush tax cuts of 2003; he helped a Republican-controlled Congress write them into law while at CBO.
With the cuts set to expire on December 31 unless Congress extends them, Holtz-Eakin adamantly opposes Democratic proposals to sunset the cuts for families earning more than $250,000 a year. “You don’t improve the tax code by raising rates and narrowing the base; you do it by lowering rates and broadening the base,” he said.
Holtz-Eakin believes that the health care reform law enacted this year is a “dreadfully bad piece of legislation” that should be repealed. He has no illusions that the Senate will do it, or that President Obama would sign such a law if it did, but he argues that the new majority in the House should put a repeal bill on record. “That’s a strong statement to the American people,” he said.
But Holtz-Eakin has other positions—such as the need to cut the deficit by reining in Medicare and Social Security benefits—that might not sit well in a party that just received a big boost from senior voters. Congress still needs to bite the bullet on entitlements, Holtz-Eakin said, adding, “We cannot continue on the path we are headed down. The politics of that have to change.”
Ten-term Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., is about to become the most powerful man in Washington that no one has ever heard of. Americans will find out who he is soon enough.
Elected in 1990, the soft-spoken Midwesterner from Midland has never attracted the spotlight or craved attention. But Camp, 57, is no stranger to Beltway dealmaking, and he is about to get a nationwide close-up as the all-but-certain next chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. His ascension will place him in the rarefied air previously occupied by such towering figures as Reps. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., and Wilbur Mills, D-Ark.
Ways and Means holds sway over matters of critical importance to the economy, ranging from taxes to trade, health care, and Social Security. Under the Constitution, all measures affecting federal revenues must originate in the House, which means that Ways and Means is a central player. If Camp doesn’t like a tax proposal from President Obama, he can bottle it up indefinitely.
He will answer to presumptive Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, but the two Midwesterners enjoy a good relationship. Boehner is also expected to return some of the powers that committee chairmen lost when his Democratic predecessor, Nancy Pelosi of California, centralized major decision-making in her office.
Camp was angered by what he saw as Democratic end runs around his committee on cap-and-trade and other contentious legislation. When House Democrats sought to bring a tax bill to the floor shortly before the August recess without advance notice, he protested: “Mr. Speaker, in my 20 years in Congress, I don’t think I have seen a more disappointing time for this House.” By the standards of the mild-mannered Camp, that was an eruption.
He is a committed free-trader, although like most Michigan lawmakers he wants a pending trade pact with South Korea to contain more-favorable terms for Detroit automakers. He is vowing to extend all of the tax cuts enacted under President Bush in 2001 and 2003, arguing that letting them expire for upper-income Americans would threaten the economic recovery and constitute class warfare.
Camp has built a reputation as a health care expert, and he is likely to be a central player in any Republican effort to repeal or de-fund Obama’s signature domestic-policy achievement.
A few days before the election, Karl Rove, the grand poobah of Republican strategists, gave his Internet stamp of approval to Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel.
“Recommended Read: Kim Strassel’s ‘Biggest #Election Myths of #2010,’ ” @KarlRove tweeted to his 191,000 followers, linking to an October 29 column dissecting five “political fairytales” Strassel believed were being propagated by Democrats during the election cycle.
As a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and one of several conservative voices on the editorial page, Strassel, 38, has long had the ear of influential Republicans. She began writing her weekly political column “Potomac Watch” from Washington in early 2007 and has spent the better part of the three years since then assailing the Obama agenda and rallying the GOP.
Now that Strassel’s biggest admirers will actually be in power for the first time since she began her column, her message will carry more punch. “Within the halls of Congress, certainly there’ll be more members who are reading her column every week,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye, who has known Strassel for nearly a decade and counts himself a fan. “People not only listen to what Kim says but they know that she listens too. It makes for a measured, thoughtful response, even when she’s going for the jugular.” Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a rising star within the GOP and the incoming chairman of the Budget Committee, has frequently earned praise from Strassel in her columns for steering Republicans away from being the party of “no” and coming up with alternative proposals. Ryan, too, gives Strassel high marks for her insights.
“I read her column to get a good sense of what reality is. She’s not just parroting the line or running with the mainstream boilerplate,” Ryan says. “She does a very good job of piercing conservatism and fleshing it out in effective ways so that it is action-oriented.”
Strassel says that her job will remain fundamentally the same—to hold those in power accountable. For the last two years, she has used much of her allotted space to point out why the Democratic approach was wrong. Going forward, look for Strassel to be holding Republicans’ feet to the fire on the pledges they made to fed-up voters.
“A lot of Republicans were brought into office and elected on the promises of more-limited government, lower taxes, fewer regulations, a more pro-growth approach to the economy. And those are things that the WSJ editorial page agrees with,” Strassel said. “I think our role is much as it was in the run-up to 2006, which is to watch these guys and see how true they are to those promises.”
Readers and politicians alike can take Strassel’s warning to the GOP candidates at the end of her election-myths column as a sign that she won’t be going easy on the new kids on Capitol Hill. “The more Republicans stick to their beliefs, the less they’ll have to dream up their own myths in 2012,” she wrote.
MARK ISAKOWITZ, KIRK BLALOCK
The Obama administration has been an unusually energetic regulator. From health care to financial overhaul to the environment, Cabinet secretaries and their deputies can expect to spend a lot of time before House committees next year defending their rules against Republicans who campaigned on limited government and ending regulatory overkill. That’s where Mark Isakowitz, 44, and Kirk Blalock, 40, come in. They head Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, one of the only all-Republican lobbying firms in Washington. Their clients include Coca-Cola, Ford Motor, and JPMorgan Chase, to name just a few.
Isakowitz and Blalock didn’t follow the lead of other Republican lobby shops that staffed up with Democrats several years ago in anticipation of a Democratic Congress and White House. Their firm now holds a niche spot in the lobbying world that became a lot more valuable after last week’s elections; it is Republican to the core. All of its lobbyists have long pedigrees of Washington-related service, either under Republican administrations, on the campaign trail, or on Capitol Hill. Blalock was a special assistant to then-Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour. Isakowitz spent years running the lobbying operation for the National Federation of Independent Business and was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team.
The two men will need to use their institutional memories skillfully in educating the new crop of Republican House members in the ways of Washington. On health care, for example, the lobbyists can offer tea party members gunning for an all-out repeal a sense of the subtler ways to undermine the new law, thus avoiding paralysis in the Senate. The firm’s clients span a host of industries—health care, telecommunications, manufacturing, banking, retail, gambling—whose issues lead to almost every House committee. For every government rule those panels consider, Isakowitz and Blalock will help their Republican clients to hammer on the same themes. They will question how those rules contribute to job creation, economic security, and the federal debt, and they will try to get them scaled back. The firm is already taking on the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule aimed at reducing emissions from institutional boilers and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proxy access rule to give shareholders easier access to corporate voting.
Isakowitz and Blalock’s work won’t be entirely devoted to channeling anti-administration fervor. Their shop also represents the Republic of Korea, which will put them at the heart of the South Korean free-trade agreement being pushed by the administration. If that deal gets approved, it could pave the way for other trade agreements that both the White House and the business community support.
California Republican Darrell Issa has gained a reputation for regularly irking the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill. As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the 112th Congress, Issa should be able to turn his pestering up a few notches by launching full-fledged investigations into the administration’s practices and policies.
Following an election where a majority of voters turned against Big Government, the oversight panel could play an instrumental role in highlighting the GOP’s policy goals of reducing government—and in providing a forum for embarrassing Obama.
“When you think about the issues that prompted the 2010 elections and the prevailing theory that government ought to be more modest and cost-effective, oversight looms large,” said Scott Segal, who lobbies the government on energy, trade, and consumer issues for Bracewell & Giuliani.
Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella said that the lawmaker’s agenda will run the gamut, touching on many of the top political issues from the campaign. The panel plans to investigate how the Obama administration is—or isn’t—spending stimulus money, implementing the health care law, and rolling out regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions. And although it’s not yet official that Issa will chair the committee, it’s all but certain.
“Representative [John] Boehner has said that effective oversight is a key responsibility of Congress, and Representative Issa will be at the forefront of those efforts,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner, the likely speaker of the House.
Hill observers say that Issa, 57, runs the risk of overreaching, especially given that tea party-endorsed lawmakers will likely press him to be bold. One former Clinton administration aide said that the oversight panel’s investigations probably won’t match the disparaging rhetoric about the executive branch that characterized the campaign trail. “I am not convinced that the investigations are ultimately going to bear some huge scandal or political fruit for the Republicans,” the former aide said.
Bardella dismisses speculation from some Hill observers that Chairman Issa would conduct “witch hunts” against Obama’s top appointees or repeatedly summon them to Capitol Hill. But the onus is on the administration to work with Issa, he insisted. “How acrimonious it gets between the White House and Congress,” Bardella said, “ultimately depends on how responsive and cooperative the administration is in answering the questions we’ll have to ask.”
One of the consequences of losing Democratic control of the House is the likelihood that White House officials are going to have to, as they say on the cop shows, lawyer up. In recent years, investigations have invariably followed when one party takes over a legislative chamber and the other party occupies the White House. The Clinton administration was pinned down by myriad investigations into Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, technology sales to the Chinese, foreign campaign money, and a slew of other areas that kept the White House Office of Legal Counsel one of the busiest in the West Wing.
That’s sure to happen to the Obama White House, too, although the intensity is unlikely to reach Clintonesque levels. In any event, Robert Bauer will be at the center of the storm.
At 58, the White House counsel is a Washington veteran and is immersed in the capital’s culture. His wife, Anita Dunn, is a prominent Democratic political consultant who served briefly in 2009 as White House communications director. Bauer’s specialty is election law. He doesn’t have the breadth of experience that some of the Clinton White House counsels had, such as Abner Mikva, the former House member from Illinois who was chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, or the late Lloyd Cutler, a Washington fixture who was White House counsel not only for Clinton but also for President Carter. Bauer can be a bit of a prankster. As Barack Obama’s campaign counsel during the 2008 presidential race, he once crashed a campaign conference call that Hillary Rodham Clinton was holding with reporters—something that’s hard to imagine Cutler, with his Georgetown mien, doing.
So far, Bauer doesn’t have a big blemish on his record. He succeeded Gregory Craig, a Washington rainmaker, who was faulted for his handling of the Guantanamo Bay prison closure, among other things. Bauer was able to negotiate some of the finer, more-contentious points in President Obama’s health care legislation, such as the question of abortion funding that divided anti-abortion Democrats from the rest of the party.
Bauer will need that delicate touch when dealing with Republicans, especially Rep. Darrell Issa, the Californian who is likely to chair the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the point of the spear for House investigations. During the 1990s, then-Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., had a reputation for prosecutorial zeal. He famously reenacted the suicide of Vince Foster, Clinton’s White House counsel at the time, using a gun and a watermelon. No one thinks that Issa will be so Javert-like, but he is likely to issue subpoenas aggressively, and Bauer will have to balance compliance and transparency with protecting the president politically and institutionally. “You have to remember that you’re not just the president’s lawyer,” says a former White House counsel, who declined to be quoted by name talking about a successor. “You are the lawyer for the presidency, and there are principles at stake.”
Don’t be fooled by his last name: Brian Kennedy is no Democrat. The self-described “strategic adviser, counselor, and friend” to the staff of presumptive House Speaker John Boehner has spent his entire career in Washington working for Republicans and for the interests of the oil-and-gas industry.
When the GOP assumes control of the House in January, people close to Boehner say that Kennedy, 35, will be a behind-the-scenes presence in the offices of the speaker and the chairmen of both the Energy and Commerce, and Natural Resources committees. He is holding message meetings with senior House Republican staff on how to sell their top energy agenda items: expanding oil drilling, fighting Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and expanding the use of the controversial natural-gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
“I don’t lobby, but what I do goes hand in glove with lobbying,” Kennedy said. “Communications, coalitions, grassroots—the stuff that complements a lobbying campaign. Air-artillery messaging.”
It will be a return to high-level majority-party influence for Kennedy, who works for the energy communications arm of FTI Consulting. Among the clients for whom Kennedy provides messaging, strategy, and sometimes crisis management are the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Transocean (one of the companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico).
From 2003 to 2006, Kennedy was an indispensable source for every energy reporter in town. He was the communications director for the House Resources Committee, whose Republican chairman, Rep. Richard Pombo, grabbed the spotlight as one of most aggressively pro-drilling, regulation-averse lawmakers ever to wield a gavel. After Pombo lost his seat in the Democratic wave of 2006, Kennedy became Boehner’s press secretary. But he left within a year to cofound the Washington branch of the Institute for Energy Research, where his bona fides within the industry rose but his voice in the public debate waned. A Houston-based nonprofit that bills itself as a research-and-analysis firm, the institute is reportedly funded by oil companies. The group has been slammed for its links to the denial of global warming science.
But experiences like those with the Institute for Energy Research seem to have left their mark on Kennedy. The new Congress will be awash in Republican members who deny climate science, but he has taken a counterintuitive tack—positioning Republicans not as antagonists of science but as reasonable protectors of the economy.
“Let’s make sure we’re not too shrill on questioning the science. To come out railing against science is not smart messaging. Having lawmakers slam the scientific underpinnings of climate change is not the right thing to do right now. Let others do that,” Kennedy said. “Keep the messaging on taxes, economy, and national security. Drag the fight onto their turf and keep it there.”
Since he was voted out of office in 2006, former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., has used his perch at the Heritage Foundation to warn against the perils of reducing defense spending. His concerns were largely ignored by the Democratic-controlled Congress, but they did help rally Republican members of the Armed Services committees to push for bolstering the defense budget.
Now that the GOP will control the House next year and Democrats’ grasp of the Senate will be weakened, Talent, a veteran of both chambers, will have an even more sympathetic audience—presumably including some of the new members of Congress whom he will address at an upcoming Heritage-run orientation. “The most important thing is to try to keep people focused on the importance of national security and military preparedness even though … in Washington, the urgent always seems to crowd out the important,” Talent, 54, told National Journal.
The Pentagon has launched a five-year effort to cut more than $100 billion in overhead and other costs and redirect that spending to higher-priority items. Talent does not dispute that defense dollars should be spent more wisely, but he stresses that the military cannot modernize and maintain its force with the modest annual budget increases under current plans. The services, he said, have “desperate needs.”
To back up his contention, Talent points to a report by the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, a bipartisan commission that critiqued the 2010 QDR, and warned against a “growing gap” between what the military, as it is now sized and equipped, can do and what it may be called on to do. “It is essential that we modernize the force,” said Talent, a panel member. “We just have to find the funding to do that, along with the reforms in the Pentagon that will make the dollars go further.”
Talent’s calls resemble those of Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who is likely to be the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In declaring his interest in the top committee post the morning after the elections, McKeon emphasized the need to hedge against future threats and criticized plans to slow historic increases in the Pentagon’s budget.
But not all Republicans feel the same way, with a growing number of GOP lawmakers making deficit reduction their top priority for the new Congress. Nevertheless, Talent is optimistic he’ll succeed in making his case. “You can’t make the defense budget a scapegoat for budgetary problems,” he said. Although the core defense budget—minus emergency spending to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—has nearly doubled in the last decade, Talent emphasized that it makes up a smaller portion of the overall budget than it did decades ago.
The biggest piece of unfinished business that retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden says he left in early 2009 when he left the CIA—and government service altogether—was improving the agency’s relations with Congress. The CIA was under fire from congressional Democrats for using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics between 2003 and 2005, and was facing criminal investigation by the incoming Obama administration.
Nearly two years later, Hayden is poised to play an influential role in building a bridge between the incoming House Republican majority and the national-security apparatus. Through his government service and now as a private consultant, Hayden has built a network of connections with key House Republicans and their top aides. “He’s definitely emerged as a strong voice,” a House GOP aide said.
He’s also keenly aware of how politics and policy intersect on the Hill, having witnessed battles over national-security legislation up close.
Hayden said in an interview that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee should focus on five key areas: confronting terrorist threats, including al-Qaida’s operations in Yemen; addressing counterproliferation issues (such as dealing with Iran’s nuclear plans); conducting oversight of the government’s cybersecurity programs; dealing with China; and keeping tabs on escalating violence in Mexico.
He suggested that the committee hold hearings early on about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as well as the Obama administration’s plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July.
Hayden’s fortunes on the Hill have ebbed and flowed over the years. But he has largely remained popular with lawmakers who regularly deal with intelligence and national-security affairs, including some Democrats. A native of Pittsburgh, Hayden was appointed director of the National Security Agency in 1999 by then-President Clinton, a position he held until 2005.
In 2006, President Bush called on Hayden to take over the CIA, which was reeling under the turbulent tenure of an unpopular director, former Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla. To be sure, Hayden’s government service has not been without problems: He oversaw a controversial warrantless-wiretapping program as director of the NSA. Still, the Senate confirmed him to head the CIA with a convincing 78-15 vote in May 2006.
Hayden was not at the agency when harsh interrogations were conducted, but he had to deal with the fallout—including taking direct fire from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats.
Now a principal at the Chertoff Group, a private risk-assessment and security-consulting firm led by former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Hayden said he would recommend that members of the next Congress try to keep the Intelligence Committee’s business out of the partisan fray and do what they can to close investigations into the CIA’s past interrogations. “Nothing else is possible unless the committee remains as apolitical as possible,” he said.
John Boehner has promised a return to regular order, but only a small group of lawmakers and aides even know what that means. Enter Hugh Halpern.
The 41-year-old GOP staff director of the House Rules Committee has been on Capitol Hill since 1987. He is one of a handful of veteran leadership aides who have mastered parliamentary procedure and House rules. Republicans will be relying on his expertise to navigate their legislative agenda.
Halpern defines it this way: “Regular order is the process of allowing individual members to make individual decisions about how they want to change legislation and what they want to support.”
Halpern holds a strong belief that how a bill becomes a law in Congress really matters to the integrity of the institution.
Boehner, the presumptive House speaker, has said that among other reforms, he will let committees reassert their traditional role in the legislative process, allow for more debate on critical issues, require that bills be made available three days before a vote so that the public can get a fair reading, and ban such practices as air-dropping earmarks into legislation at the last minute to secure votes.
The Rules Committee, where Republican Rep. David Dreier of California is expected to return as chairman, serves largely as an extension of the speaker’s office to set the terms for floor debate. That includes deciding which amendments the House will consider.
Halpern brings more than two decades of legislative and procedural experience to the task. He started as an intern and a driver for then-Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., and he has worked his way up through committee posts, including Transportation and Infrastructure; Energy and Commerce; and Financial Services. His career path has given him a hand in a wide breadth of legislation ranging from automobile safety, tobacco regulation, and consumer protection, to terrorism financing and money laundering, and the establishment of the Homeland Security Department. “I grew up in the committee system,” he said of his legislative background. “But I’ve always enjoyed [procedure].”
Halpern has worked for Dreier since 2005. Their partnership extends beyond the House chamber. In 2008, Dreier served as parliamentarian, and Halpern as assistant parliamentarian, for the 2008 Republican National Convention, where they oversaw the nominations of Sen. John McCain of Arizona for president and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for vice president.
Like his boss, Halpern can, well, geek-out on the intricacies of parliamentary tactics. He holds a strong belief that how a bill becomes a law in Congress really matters to the integrity of the institution. “If we don’t go back to it, in the next couple of years everyone who really knows this stuff will either be enjoying life in sunny Florida or dead,” Halpern quipped. “We’ve got an obligation to get back to it.”
If Jennifer Marshall, 38, has anything to do with it, the perennial fight over school vouchers will resurface with a vengeance next year when newly ensconced House Republicans start drafting budget documents. School-choice advocates such as Marshall want congressional appropriators to revive funding for the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program, noting that younger sisters and brothers of the 216 children now in the program lack access to the same private-school tuition subsidies as their siblings. Senate Democrats cut off funding for the D.C. school-voucher program last year, saying that federal money should not go to private schools.
D.C. school vouchers provide the perfect platform for Marshall, who is the domestic-policy director at the Heritage Foundation, and other conservatives to trumpet a broader Republican tenet that puts parents, teachers, and local officials at the heart of decision-making about schooling. It is the one voucher initiative likely to be considered in Congress next year, and the best opportunity for conservatives to make the case for school choice.
Marshall is pushing to put parents, teachers, and local officials at the heart of decision-making about schooling.
Marshall will have plenty of opportunity to spread the word, as tea party favorites such as Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., rise to prominence. DeMint is among the conservatives who championed a plan drafted in the mid-1990s by Marshall and others that advocated a dramatic rollback in federal red tape, with states applying for all their school grants at once. After the grants were awarded, the feds were to get out of the way. Marshall was at the Family Research Council when the proposal was formed, and she has been working ever since to help GOP lawmakers coalesce around a conservative vision that goes beyond the school doors to embrace marriage, abstinence, and home schooling.
The flap over D.C. vouchers will be the first, but not the only, arena where Marshall will wield her influence. She also has ties to the House Education and Labor Committee, which will likely be led by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who wants to reduce federal influence on schools. Marshall’s roots in the Republican revolution of 16 years ago give her credibility with the new class of conservative House freshmen and with old-timers such as departing Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., who for years has questioned the need for federal involvement in education.
Marshall recently brought props to a C-SPAN interview, comparing the 30-page Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 with the 600-page No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. What happened to school performance after the government kept upping the ante over the last several decades, she asked? Nothing, she said: Student scores and graduation rates are virtually the same. Marshall is hoping that House Republicans keep the visual aid in mind as they rethink the education law.
Bill Burton’s turn at the podium may be coming soon. His boss, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, is expected to soon move on to greener pastures—perhaps replacing senior adviser David Axelrod, who will likely return to Chicago early next year to begin working in earnest on President Obama’s reelection campaign. When Gibbs moves up, Burton is seen as the favorite to be tapped as the new face of the administration for the press and, thus, the country.
Picking Burton seems likely for a number of reasons. He has served as Gibbs’s top deputy since Day One, and he was the president’s national press secretary during the campaign. Like Gibbs, Burton has plenty of experience on Capitol Hill that would come in handy dealing with a Republican-controlled House and a more closely divided Senate. After a bruising year in which Obama has lost control of his message—and lost the support of the electorate—the administration’s need to find a friendly face who can effectively speak to the American people is more important than ever.
At 33, Burton remains a fresh face in the White House, but one who has racked up a surprising amount of political experience despite his age. Before joining the Obama campaign, he worked on the 2004 presidential campaigns of Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. His first job on Capitol Hill was with then-Rep. Bill Luther, D-Minn. The Buffalo, N.Y., native also held communications posts in the office of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee under then-Chairman Rahm Emanuel. He’s married to the daughter of Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., who served in the Clinton White House. Like the president, Burton is biracial. His father is African-American; his mother is Caucasian.
Former colleagues say that Burton has done well because he has no ego—a trait the president likes in a “no drama” White House—and because he has seamlessly made the transition from campaign mode to promoting the White House’s policy agenda. “For a lot of people, that transition from campaign person to government person is hard. He’s made it very well,” said Steve Elmendorf, who was Burton’s boss on the 2004 campaign trail. “He’s clearly someone who not only understands the communications of politics but he also has grown into the substance [of policy].”
Burton is popular with the press corps. He has won some goodwill by being less acerbic than some other press secretaries in recent memory. His willingness to engage reporters—from the big fish at the networks to lesser-known regional reporters—has also won him points. But Burton isn’t afraid to push back on Obama’s behalf. During one of Gibbs’s recent press briefings, Burton even fired off a sharp e-mail from the sidelines to a reporter who had just casually referred to the president as “POTUS.”
“If you’re going to deal with the press, you’ve got to be an honest broker, and you’ve got to be fair,” Elmendorf said. “You’ve got to be tough sometimes, but you’ve got to do it in a nice way … and I think that’s the great thing about Bill. He’s fair and honest with people.”
American Crossroads and its spin-off Crossroads GPS spent tens of millions of dollars this year hammering Democratic candidates with an aggressive TV ad campaign, a high-profile effort that helped Republicans claim nearly unprecedented victories. It was a marquee story of a historic election—and it might have been only a dress rehearsal for 2012. Steven Law, Crossroads’ president and CEO, told National Journal that the group plans to grow “substantially” during the next two years. What “substantially” means is undetermined, Law said, but he pointed out that Crossroads in 2010 raised about $70 million in only 29 weeks.
Two years ago, Law was an unlikely candidate to lead one of the conservative movement’s most prominent organizations. Law, 50, who began his political career during Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 1990 reelection campaign, had been the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s general counsel and was almost a decade removed from his last politics-heavy job. (In 2002, he ended a four-year stint as the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director to serve as President Bush’s deputy secretary in the Labor Department, a post he said helped teach him how politically effective unions are.) Leaving a comfortable job at the chamber to work at a political start-up, albeit one backed by Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, presented a personal crossroads of his own, Law said. But the longtime political operative felt compelled to help Republicans push back against President Obama by creating an independent political organization, the kind of group that Law said liberals had used so effectively in 2008.
Those tables turned this year, when a surge in spending by outside conservative groups coincided with the disappearance of spending by their liberal counterparts. Law, described as Crossroads’ “mechanical mastermind,” plans to keep pressing their advantage, even as he expects the liberals to return with a vengeance. The group is poised to add the presidential race to a list that already includes Senate and congressional campaigns, and its efforts could include a bigger focus on voter-turnout operations instead of the more high-profile TV ad campaigns. Crossroads officials haven’t decided which races to concentrate on, but Law made it clear that in a year when the political climate will likely be less favorable for the GOP than 2010’s, they will support quality candidates who can win close races. “2010 was clearly
a wave election, and it was obvious this was the case long before Election Day,” Law said. “My current view is, 2012 will be more like trench warfare.”
Cecelia Munoz, 48, will be the brains and the heart behind any administration effort to respond to House Republicans’ expected push for an “enforcement-first” and border-security agenda on immigration. As the White House director of intergovernmental affairs, and a longtime advocate for immigrants and Latinos, Munoz has considerable influence in the Hispanic community, a key constituency as both parties gear up for the 2012 presidential election. In the past two elections, Hispanic voters haven’t strayed far from their usual pattern of voting for Democrats. But their disappointment in President Obama, after his 2008 campaign pledge to move forward on immigration reform, is escalating as Congress stalls.
With House Republicans poised to block any measures that allow a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States, the White House will have to respond. The administration’s worry isn’t that Hispanics will vote for Republicans, many of whom adopted hard-core anti-immigrant stances in the midterm elections. But it’s entirely possible that fed-up Hispanics won’t vote at all.
Munoz has the trust of the Hispanic community, a deep understanding of immigration issues and law, and the ear of the president. As a senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza, she was at the center of the immigration-overhaul efforts spearheaded by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., back in 2006 and 2007. Her work on immigration and civil rights earned her a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2000.
Everyone who has worked on immigration for the past two decades knows her and respects her. Munoz isn’t likely to be the public face of the administration on immigration, but she can coordinate behind the scenes with lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., both of whom are trying to broker deals with Republicans on a broad immigration bill. She can also advise Obama about how to communicate with the Hispanic community.
Advocates of legalization programs for undocumented immigrants are underscoring to policymakers that Hispanic voters will be a key constituency in the next presidential race, and that those voters consider comprehensive immigration overhaul a high priority. The midterms serve as a reminder of Latino voters’ influence. Hispanics can point to their role in reelecting Reid in Nevada, as well as in pushing back Republican candidates in squeaker Senate elections in California and Colorado, and the Illinois governor’s race.
The White House could take a cue from Reid, who made a last-ditch push for a bill to legalize undocumented high-school students in the month before the election. The effort failed, but Nevada’s Hispanic voters showed their appreciation nonetheless in giving him the edge over tea party challenger Sharron Angle.
Having helped House Republicans reclaim the majority, Ed Gillespie is poised to help shape the issue agenda for the next Congress and win more election battles in the years ahead.
As an architect of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the two independent-expenditure groups that changed the face of political fundraising this election season, Gillespie is partially responsible for more than $38 million pumped into Republican campaigns across the country. His groups had a hand in Senate victories for Marco Rubio in Florida, Rand Paul in Kentucky, and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.
Gillespie and Karl Rove, both White House strategists for George W. Bush, teamed up to raise millions of dollars that helped set the course of the midterm elections and the resulting GOP triumph.
But the Crossroads operation doesn’t end with the election. The two groups raised about $70 million and have reported spending only $38.7 million. The rest will go toward shaping pending policy fights over such issues as taxes, health care, and climate change.
And assuming that he continues to advise the American Crossroads operation, as he is expected to do, Gillespie is poised to be in the thick of these debates. As a veteran of crafting messages for the Republican Party, expect the Crossroads’ policy efforts to have Gillespie’s DNA all over them.
Perhaps even more of a boon to Gillespie’s reputation than his work with Crossroads was what he accomplished in his role as chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization dedicated to getting Republicans elected to state legislatures. If the elections to the House and Senate were a GOP wave, then Republican gains in state legislatures were a tsunami. Thanks in large part to the $30 million raised by the RSLC, Republicans picked up a record 680 seats in state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. To put that number in perspective: The previous record was in the election after the Watergate scandal, when Democrats picked up 628 seats. In 1994, the last Republican wave, the GOP picked up 472 seats.
In other words, more than 700 newly elected Republicans across the country owe Gillespie a thank-you card. The significance of those state-level wins is that Republicans are now in a position to control, or at least heavily influence, the redistricting process that will follow the 2010 census. This again puts Republicans in a position to win big in Congress over the next decade.
Gillespie is not new to this kind of power; he just has more after last Tuesday. For years, he has been a crucial part of the messaging machinery of the Republican Party. In 1994, while working as an aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, Gillespie was one of the principal drafters of the “Contract With America.” He was the Republican National Committee’s communications director in 1996, and then started a public-affairs communications firm with former RNC chair and current Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1997. In 2003 he became the chairman of the RNC, and in 2007, Gillespie returned to the White House and played a key role in boosting public support for the troop surge in Iraq.
He is a founder of the lobbying firm Quinn, Gillespie & Associates, and currently runs Gillespie Strategies. Gillespie and Rove are more powerful not just because of the money they spent to get Republicans elected this cycle, but because their demonstrated prowess at raising money will be central to any GOP strategy going forward.
With the Senate a firewall for Democrats against Republican attempts to alter the health care law, the chamber’s Finance Committee will be at the center of any legislative activity on the law, with its jurisdiction over Medicare, Medicaid, and taxes. The relationship that its chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has with the panel’s likely new ranking member, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will go a long way in determining whether senators make any deals.
For years, Baucus has had a cordial and productive relationship with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the current ranking member whose time is up in that position. Together the two helped shaped the Bush tax cuts, corporate-tax legislation, and the Medicare prescription drug act.
Hatch is a longtime dealmaker on health care, having worked extensively with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., on a host of issues, including the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the 1990s. He also sponsored with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., legislation to increase reporting requirements for supplements and drugs to the Food and Drug Administration and has supported stem-cell research.
But the Hatch who is in line to succeed Grassley as ranking member is aware of the shifting political landscape in Utah, where simply being conservative might not be enough to save his job. Hatch, who is up for reelection in 2012, saw his colleague Sen. Robert Bennett lose this year in a state GOP convention, largely because some in the party—especially tea partiers—felt that he was too willing to work across party lines.
Hatch began laying the groundwork with Utah’s tea party affiliates last year. He sparked a series of votes that worked to both burnish his conservative credentials and remind Utah residents of his Republican bona fides. He also broke from a small, bipartisan group of senators who had been meeting to help shape the health reform package. Instead, he became one of the health bill’s most vocal critics and sponsored legislation to overturn core parts of it.
The Finance Committee’s GOP members have been eager to get Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Medicare and Medicaid chief Don Berwick; Medicare actuary Richard Foster; and other Obama administration officials in front of the panel to press them on potential cost overruns and implementation challenges.
Senate staffers insist that Hatch and Baucus have a more-than-cordial working relationship. “Both are from Western states, though the demographics are different,” one staffer noted. “They share some of the traits that are very specific to the West.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this story misstated Brian Kennedy's role at FTI Consulting, mentioned a client that no longer works with the firm, and also incorrectly stated that the Institute for Energy Research has published papers denying global warming science.
This article appears in the November 13, 2010 edition of National Journal Magazine.