GOP Wants Insiders to Staff Outsiders

Leaders Recruiting Top Aides for New Members

Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:38pm

In anticipation of major GOP gains in next week’s elections, House Republican leaders have put together a list of experienced Washington hands to help fill top staff positions for the surge of newly elected outsiders.

Leading the effort are Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The leaders have put together a list of about 75 to 80 potential chiefs of staff, including current and former Capitol Hill staffers and lobbyists who have been recommended or have inquired about working for an incoming Member, according to several Republicans familiar with the document.

‘There will be a lot of new, energetic Republicans coming to town ‘ some of whom will have staff, others who will begin to assemble their teams,’ Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said in an e-mail. ‘There’s a lot of important work to get done right out of the gate, so it’s important that newly elected Republicans have access to experienced, competent staff so that they can hit the ground running.’

One former GOP staffer said leadership has been actively, but informally, seeking individuals to fill the chief of staff positions for new Members from tough districts. The goal is to help the freshmen navigate Washington and to guide them through future election cycles.

‘Every election cycle, the NRCC offers to assist our new members by providing a résumé file of qualified staffers,’ NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain said in an e-mail.

Several Republican lobbyists said it is important for GOP leadership to assist incoming lawmakers with filling senior-level staff positions, especially for those who could face tough re-election races in 2012.

‘You want to be sure that the newbies, when they hit town, do not necessarily bring their campaign staff to run their Congressional offices, because in some cases they are totally ill-equipped,’ one veteran Republican lobbyist said. ‘Winning an election is one thing, running a Congressional operation is another. A lot of these folks are really, really new to politics.’

A Republican strategist agreed, saying Members who come from swing districts benefit from having a staffer who already ‘knows the ropes’ on the Hill to keep them from making mistakes.

The strategist said the leadership recommendations are less about controlling the new Member than about making sure ‘they don’t struggle for the first four or five months.’

GOP leaders are also expected to take an active role in making sure incoming committee chairmen have acceptable staff directors leading the panels. With the potential for new leadership at the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Appropriations panel, the Steering Committee is expected to vet potential chairmen’s choices for the most senior staff level, according to several Republican lobbyists.

‘Those are very important committees,’ one former GOP leadership aide said. ‘They do the lion’s share of the work in the House. There’s no doubt leadership would have an interest in who would be the staff director.’

A Republican aide confirmed leadership’s interest in having staff that works well with Boehner to move the agenda forward.

‘Obviously, having effective committee staff is crucial for the entire Republican Conference, so it is an issue the Steering Committee may consider,’ the aide said.

Boehner’s desire to influence key committee hires is not unprecedented.

In 2007, Boehner and then-National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole clashed when Boehner asked Cole to fire top staffers after a series of problems plagued the campaign committee.

Cole refused the request, and Boehner later backed current NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) in his successful race against the Oklahoma Republican for the 2009-2010 cycle.

Democrats have also aided new Members choose their chiefs of staff.

As recently as 2008, Democrats helped the new class to fill top staff positions, a senior Democratic aide said.

Rather than having a list of potential staff at the ready, the Democratic Caucus, led by then-Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), helped incoming lawmakers find an appropriate match, the aide said.

‘After it was clear they had won their race, there was a series of conversations about what they were looking for in a chief of staff,’ the aide said.

Democrats had a résumé bank ‘of sorts,’ but they often went outside of it if no one fit the Member’s criteria, the aide said.

‘It was one of the top priorities that we filled immediately,’ the aide said, noting that Democrats plan on facilitating a similar search to help their new Members after the midterms.