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Hill Climbers: New Republican Team

Since the buzz about the GOP seems to be that the party needs to rebrand itself, it is fitting that nearly all of the analysts on the Republican Policy Committee are new faces. Several of the staff members joked that they came to office because, as Republicans, the choice was between the RPC and unemployment. But considering that they started their jobs as the stimulus package was being worked out, they’ve found no shortage of work since joining the team in January.

[IMGCAP(1)]Amanda Farris, the RPC’s education and policy analyst, thinks that has been a good thing. The debate over the appropriate place for education in the stimulus presents a unique opportunity to talk about related issues and keep those conversations going in the months ahead.

“It’s great that education is at the forefront of what we’re talking about, but we don’t want to lose sight of real people” when there is so much focus on money and economics, she said.

“We need to talk about what goes along with that money when it’s provided.”

Farris first became involved in education policy when she was a legislative correspondent for Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). She worked on No Child Left Behind and has stayed in the field through much of her career. She left Enzi’s office in 2003 to work for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. In 2006, she became assistant secretary at the Department of Education and worked there until this year.

As a former associate director of the White House’s National Economic Council under President George W. Bush, Jon Lieber was among those who faced the prospect of joblessness come January. Fortunately for him, Lieber landed at the RPC as chief economist and budget analyst, and he has been putting his experience at the White House to work.

“It gave me a much broader vision about the federal government and the economy,” he said.

The native Californian has been trying to make his way home for some time now, but every time one job ends and he starts to head in that direction, another opportunity that he can’t turn down is presented, he said. At least he’s unlikely to have many dull days on the job, with the economy affecting so many aspects of policy.

[IMGCAP(2)]“The intersection is greater at this point than it has been in the last 30 years,” he said. “There’s no other time when these questions would be as relevant.”

Lieber also said being at the RPC is a “good perch to steer Republican policy.”

Like Lieber, Mike O’Reilly will also be working on some hot topics as analyst for banking, commerce, trade and housing issues. O’Reilly’s decision to take the job was based in part on the chance to work for Sen. John Ensign (Nev.), chairman of the RPC.

O’Reilly first met Ensign while serving as legislative director to then-Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) when the Senators on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee together. When the chance to work directly with Ensign came up, O’Reilly saw it as a way to be part of the anticipated change in the Republican Party.

Michael Stransky, the defense, foreign affairs and intelligence analyst, isn’t exactly a new face on the committee. He was an analyst under Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) when they chaired the panel. He left to become counsel to the deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice in 2005, where he worked until returning to his former post this year.

Stransky’s intelligence experience began when he studied international politics and international security at Georgetown. He was an intelligence professional on Bush’s WMD commission before working for the deputy attorney general.

The agenda he will be working on this year already seems to be taking shape, with a focus on Guantánamo Bay and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Stransky said that suits him, since those are among the areas he is most interested in.

Derrick Morgan also comes to the RPC from the White House, having worked as assistant and special counsel to former Vice President Dick Cheney for most of his second term. Contrary to what is often depicted in the media, Morgan said, Cheney is “incredibly kind.”

“He isn’t one to be extremely talkative, but he’s extremely kind,” Morgan said. “I was thrilled to work for him.”

Working for Cheney did keep him on his toes, though. Since the former vice president has “done just about every job in Washington,” he would know when someone wasn’t meeting expectations, Morgan said.

His years in the White House should serve him well, since he will be working on energy, environment, agriculture and labor issues, which he also covered during his time with Cheney.

Morgan has a special affection for Capitol Hill, since he and his wife, Alyssa, were married at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in 2002. Alyssa does not work in politics; she works for the Red Cross’ corporate office, but Morgan says that creates a good balance.

“We’re a humanitarian and a lawyer; between the two of us, hopefully we’ll do some good,” he said.

The newest member of the policy team is Mark Patton, who started as counsel and analyst for judiciary and homeland security policy in early February. Patton said in an e-mail that he took the job because of the “opportunity to help shape and articulate the ideas of the Republican party.”

Rounding out the RPC’s analyst staff is Andy Chasin, who is the only one to have stayed on after the change in administrations. He’s worked on health policy for the committee since 2007, so he knows a thing or two about how things work in the office and he’s optimistic about his new colleagues.

“In the first couple of weeks, they’ve demonstrated that they’re a very strong team,” he said.

And, he couldn’t resist adding, “They’re wonks.”

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