Spanberger’s chief of staff says House is like a startup

Roscoe Jones Jr. relishes chamber’s “fast pace” after move from the Senate

Roscoe Jones Jr. compares his move from Senate aide to House chief of staff to “going from General Motors to a startup.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Roscoe Jones Jr. compares his move from Senate aide to House chief of staff to “going from General Motors to a startup.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 19, 2019 at 6:00am

After years of working for an incumbent senator holding a safe seat, Roscoe Jones Jr. was ready to build something from scratch.

“It was like going from General Motors to a startup,” he said. Trading in his role as Dianne Feinstein’s legislative director, he moved over to the House, accepting a job as chief of staff for newcomer Abigail Spanberger.

His first challenge? Adapting to the tempo. “The House has this really kinetic, fast pace,” Jones said in an interview this week, after rushing back to the office. “The days go by so quickly.”

“The toughest days are probably MTRs — motions to recommit,” he said. “Those votes can be tricky because we don’t have very much time.”

Republicans have been particularly adept this year at using those procedural motions to send a message and put moderate Democrats like his boss in a tight spot. Jones doesn’t take them lightly.

His team wrestles with every vote, even when time is tight and the night has been long. They’re “grossly overqualified,” he boasted of the full-time staff of 17. “We have each other’s backs.”

So far, Spanberger, who unseated Republican Dave Brat last fall in a historically red Virginia district, has broken with her party several times on motions to recommit. In February, for example, she joined 25 other Democrats to help the GOP push through a provision that would alert U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun.

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That language — added to a bipartisan background check bill — may have angered some progressives and dismayed party leadership, but Jones said he’s always thinking of what’s right for Spanberger’s 7th District, which cuts a long vertical path through central Virginia, west of Richmond.

“The mission isn’t just ‘Go, Democrats, go,’” he said. “The mission is ‘I want to change the lives of ordinary people.’”

Jones doesn’t let the tough reelection fight that’s already brewing for Spanberger back home faze him, even as his team is still settling in at the Capitol.

“This is the intersection of law, policy and politics,” he said. “You have to think of multiple levels; you have to be very strategic.” If anything, being a Republican target means “you’ve got to be more collaborative than a lot of other offices,” he added.

Before vaulting to the House, Jones spent just under two years with Feinstein and served as senior counsel to Sen. Cory Booker — both Stanford grads like him.

That came after a job in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and a stint as a federal prosecutor.

“May it please the court, I am Roscoe Jones on behalf of the United States of America,’” Jones recited. “It gave me chills. It still does.”

It was his father who shaped his sense of public service and taught him to “go where the problems are.” His parents went to segregated schools in Meridian, Mississippi, and his father marched across the bridge in Selma, Alabama, on “Bloody Sunday,” as white state troopers wielded their nightsticks against proponents of civil rights. Even so, Jones’ father went on to serve in the Marines during the Vietnam War.

“Not a lot of people would do that,” Jones said.

After dipping his toe in all three branches of government, Jones said he’s found the right place to serve: “The Hill is a special place. We live in a stream of history.”

As for his leap from the well-oiled machinery of the Senate to the front lines of the House, he has no regrets.

“Look, I love the Senate. I will always love the Senate,” Jones said. “But I have never had this much fun on the Hill as I’m having now.”


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