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President Gets New Liaisons

House Staffers Added to Shop

The White House rounded out the top ranks of its Congressional lobbying shop this week, tapping a former top aide to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) as its chief House liaison and bringing in a former Capitol Hill budget specialist to serve as the so-called “inside” deputy beneath the office’s new director, David Hobbs.

In the House slot will be Dan Keniry, who served as Hastert’s floor director before moving over to the White House legislative affairs shop in 2001. Most recently, Keniry played an integral role in White House negotiations with Congressional leaders over homeland security legislation, and he spent the last Congress as point man in the House on defense and national security matters.

He will be joined in the senior ranks of the liaison shop by Eric Pelletier, a former top senior aide under the late House Rules Chairman Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.); Pelletier is transitioning over from the administration’s Office of Management and Budget. Pelletier is regarded among Congressional Republicans as a top authority on budget issues and process.

The selections mean that former senior House aides now hold three of the four most senior spots in the liaison division.

Senior GOP aides suggested that the selections may provide an early signal regarding the White House’s priorities in the 108th Congress.

“I think it’s significant they’re making those choices. It shows that the White House is planning to operate proactively on these issues,” Hastert spokesman John Feehery said.

The White House, however, played down any link between the appointments and their respective areas of policy expertise.

“The president surrounds himself with a capable team to achieve his priorities,” said Taylor Griffin, a White House spokesman.

Keniry is taking the position vacated by Hobbs when he was elevated to chief lobbyist. Hobbs took over for Nicholas Calio, who returned to K Street to take a senior position with Citigroup.

Feehery said Keniry, who went to work for Hastert in 1999 after a period as a senior aide on the Rules Committee, understands the procedural intricacies of the House “better than anybody.” He is likely to be conscripted for a key role in managing the implementation of the Homeland Security Department, which Feehery described as a “major point of contention” between Congress and the White House.

“Having Dan Keniry there is really going to help the process,” Feehery said.

As for Pelletier, Feehery added, “No one in the administration has a better understanding of the budget process.”

Keniry, 33, was expected from the outset to take over the vacancy left by Hobbs when he was elevated to become the administration’s chief Congressional liaison. Keniry worked previously with Pelletier, 32, under Solomon.

The liaison operation’s “inside” deputy essentially serves as a manager and facilitator within the larger operation.

Also aboard the new House team is Amy Jensen, a former top adviser to Hastert on health care issues. She joins the liaison operation from prominent K Street outfit PodestaMattoon, and spent time before that with the National Federation of Independent Business.

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