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Obama Appoints Liaisons for Hill

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) announced Monday the formation of his four-person Congressional liaison team led by the top staffer to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Phil Schiliro.

Schiliro, a Capitol Hill veteran who has worked on and off for years for Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the influential chairman of the Government Reform panel, will take on the role of senior adviser. The rest of the outreach staff includes Obama campaign senior counsel Mike Strautmanis, Obama campaign Director of Congressional Affairs Mike Robertson and Democratic National Committee Policy Director Karen Richardson.

Schiliro is Waxman’s chief of staff, and since 1997 he has also served as the top Democratic aide on the Oversight panel. He worked briefly in the Senate as the policy director for then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) and as the staff director of the Senate Democratic leadership committees. Daschle is one of Obama’s staunchest allies, and many of his ex-aides now work for Obama.

The Obama campaign said the group will serve as the primary point of contact for lawmakers and staff, and will ensure that Congress’ “counsel is considered in overall message strategy, campaign planning and execution.”

“Americans cannot afford four more years of President Bush’s policies and our new team in Washington will help us to stay in contact with members of Congress who know all too well how the divisive politics of the past have impeded progress on measures to move our country in a new direction,” Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, said in a statement.

Since Obama effectively secured the Democratic nod in early June, his campaign has been putting in place the pieces of its general election strategy. That planning has included establishing an official liaison staff and a Congressional coordination structure that holds regular meetings with House and Senate lawmakers and staff to coordinate the party message and political strategy for the next four months.

While Obama is just now formalizing his Hill outreach, his GOP rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), has had his liaison organization in place since April 1. McCain’s top outreach aide is former lobbyist and Hill aide John Green, who has spearheaded his weekly sessions with Republican lawmakers and Congressional staff.

Here’s a closer look at the Obama liaison team:

• Strautmanis most recently worked as counselor and political adviser to the Obama campaign. He has a long history with the Obama family, having known Barack and Michelle Obama personally and politically for two decades. Strautmanis began his career as a paralegal in Michelle Obama’s law firm and began working for Sen. Barack Obama in 2005 as chief counsel and deputy chief of staff.

• Richardson formerly served as deputy to the policy director in Obama’s Senate office. In 2007, she joined his presidential campaign as the Iowa policy director.

• Robertson served as deputy to the chief counsel in Obama’s Senate office. He formerly worked in San Francisco at a venture capital research firm and is on leave from Georgetown University Law Center.

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