Bush’s Senate Team Gets an Overhaul

Posted January 9, 2004 at 6:13pm

With the Senate still shaping up as the major battleground for President Bush’s agenda, the White House is heading into the final year of this term with a revamped team of lobbyists in the chamber.

Most of the faces will be familiar to Senators and staff, although a pair of departures by top administration lobbyists have prompted a reshuffling of Bush’s aides who oversee White House-Senate relations.

Matthew Kirk, a former leadership aide to Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), is taking over the top spot as liaison to the Senate, filling the shoes of Ziad Ojakli, whose three-year run as Bush’s top man in the chamber ended last week when he took over the government relations operation for the Ford Motor Co.

Brenda Becker, previously with Commerce Secretary Don Evans’ legislative affairs shop, is taking over as Vice President Cheney’s chief lobbyist on both sides of the Capitol. Becker replaces Candy Wolff, who is leaving to become a lobbyist for the Washington Council.

“It’s an honor to have this opportunity to serve the president,” said Kirk, whose official title is now deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs. Kirk, who spent six years working for Nickles in leadership, finishing up as senior floor assistant to the then-Whip, has worked in the White House’s Senate lobbying shop since early 2001 under Ojakli. That team made surprising progress in moving Bush’s agenda of increased security measures, tax cuts and prescription drug legislation through the chamber, which began with a 50-50 split, saw the Democrats gain a one-seat edge and Republicans later regain a single-seat advantage.

“We’ve had great success on both sides of the aisle,” Kirk said.

“The shoes can’t be filled. ‘Z’ did a wonderful job,” he said of Ojakli, who was widely respected on both sides of the aisle for both his White House work and his years as a top aide to the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.).

Also coming on board for the White House’s Senate lobbying shop is Deb Fiddelke, who most recently has been working in the legislative affairs office of the Council on Environmental Quality. Prior to joining the administration, Fiddelke served as communications director for Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

She will be one of Kirk’s top deputies in the Senate lobbying division of the White House’s legislative affairs office.

The other top spots in the White House’s Congressional lobbying shop will remain intact, with David Hobbs in charge of the overall operation and Dan Keniry running legislative affairs on the House side. Hobbs was a top aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Keniry for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

The House side lobbying operation is bringing on Pete Rowan as special assistant, shifting him from his duties as a House lobbyist for Cheney to working for the president’s team. That follows the departure of Kirsten Chadwick, who left the position to join the lobbying firm Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock.

The new team, particularly on the Senate side, will face some tests right out of the gate, with the Senate scheduled to take up an omnibus appropriations measure on the first day of the second session of the 108th Congress, Jan. 20. The chamber will have 11 days to pass the measure or force Congress to pass another continuing resolution to keep open the agencies that receive their funding from the seven appropriations bills that were not signed into law last year and were instead lumped into an omnibus measure.