Meet the woman in Mitt Romney’s binder nobody knows about: Rebecca Rosen.
The 32-year-old Texas native and former Senate energy staffer is the Romney campaign’s top energy and environment policy adviser and was the lead author of the Republican nominee’s energy plan released in August, according to several sources interviewed by National Journal.
“It really was phenomenal how this young woman put together such a comprehensive plan that so totally reflected what Governor Romney envisioned for an energy policy,” Harold Hamm, a top Romney adviser and CEO of the Oklahoma-based oil company Continental Resources, said in an e-mail to National Journal.
The 66-year-old Hamm, ranked by Forbes as the 30th-richest person in the United States, is considered the public face of Romney’s energy policies. Both supporters and detractors of Romney’s policies credit Hamm for many of the former Massachusetts governor’s positions on energy.
Both Hamm and Romney give the credit to Rosen, who seems likely to have a spot in the administration if Romney wins the White House. In one July meeting with coal-industry officials in Wyoming, Romney introduced Rosen as his “rock star.”
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“I want everyone to know this is my rock star,” Romney said, according to multiple sources at the meeting. “She is running energy policy on the campaign, and I’m so proud of her.”
Rosen, who held a relatively junior position in the office of Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, for more than a year until she joined the Romney campaign in June, was the driver behind the most surprising—and controversial—part of Romney’s 21-page energy plan that would give states control over energy production on federal lands.
Hamm recalled a meeting in Washington that the Romney campaign organized in late April to get input from oil and natural gas experts on how North America could become energy independent by 2020—a foundation of Romney’s energy plan.
“Rebecca took over the discussion with complete understanding of how we can get there,” Hamm recalled. “Come to find out she has been advocating and writing bills in the Senate Energy Committee for some time advocating putting the states in charge of permitting and regulation for the industry and advancing other ideas essential to the goal of energy independence.”
Rosen’s proposal to give states more control of energy production resonated all the way to the top of the ticket.
“That was an approach that certainly had a lot of potential, and Governor Romney found it very appealing and thought it would be a very good element for his agenda,” said Oren Cass, domestic policy director for the campaign, in an interview.
The campaign declined to make Rosen available for an interview.
Before joining Murkowski’s staff, Rosen worked on oil and gas issues for about five years at PFC Energy, an energy analysis firm based in Washington, D.C., according to her LinkedIn profile. Rosen has worked almost exclusively in the private sector, including at Wachovia Securities and Darby Private Equity. She graduated from American University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs with a focus on international economics. In a D.C. rarity, she has no graduate degree, according to her profile.
Rosen’s circle of contacts does not expand much beyond the oil and natural gas industries where she has spent the lion’s share of her professional career. She is mostly unknown among congressional Democrats, surrogates for President Obama’s reelection campaign, and the environmental community.
“She was a bit of a mystery on the committee,” said Bill Wicker, spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. “She was pretty junior on staff so she never interacted with the senior staff here.” (Rosen’s official title in Murkowski’s office was “Republican professional staff.”)
Two advisers to the Obama campaign, Harvard University professor Joseph Aldy and the Environmental Defense Fund’s Elgie Holstein, didn’t know anything about Rosen beyond the fact that she worked for Murkowski.
“I had to Google her,” Aldy told National Journal in an e-mail. “Didn't recognize the name.”
Even though many environmentalists and Obama campaign aides don’t know her, they had a Rosen of their own four years ago.
Heather Zichal, 36, Obama’s senior energy and climate aide in the White House, was about the same age as Rosen when she led Obama’s energy and environment portfolio on his 2008 campaign. After Obama won, Zichal transitioned into a senior position at the White House and is now the most senior aide devoted solely to those issues.
Zichal’s background included several stints in Democratic congressional offices, including that of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. She also was a Kerry adviser on energy and environment policies during his 2004 White House run.
Zichal and Rosen “have very similar profiles, temperaments. They’re both very smart,” said one former senior House GOP aide who would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “They’re both expert on policy. It’s just interesting they are polar opposites about how they come at these issues.”
Rosen seems almost certain to have a spot in a Romney administration should the governor win the White House.
An administration focused on ensuring North American energy independence, Hamm said, “has to have Rebecca in a key position to lead the implementation of Governor Romney’s game-changing energy vision.”
Cass, Romney’s domestic policy adviser, concurred: “We certainly expect that Rebecca would be involved in a Romney administration.”