Katie Beirne Fallon, a former top staffer to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), will be named White House Legislative Affairs director – a move intended to shore up a Hill operation that has long needed stronger leadership in the view of many congressional Democrats, POLITICO has learned.
Fallon, a deputy communications director who has been working in the West Wing only since the late summer, will replace the well-liked but little-known Miguel Rodriguez, a longtime Obama staffer who was appointed to guide the office through the post-election transition period.Continue Reading
Rodriguez is leaving for a job in the private sector, a senior administration official said.
Fallon, according to West Wing officials, will have much more stature and authority, akin to that enjoyed by Rob Nabors, the former legislative director now serving as an Obama deputy chief of staff. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough picked her, in part, because of her close ties to Senate Democratic leaders and recently arranged a meeting with between Obama and Fallon to “diagnose the challenges the White House faces with the Hill and come up with a plan for addressing them,” according to a person close to the situation.
“Miguel has served this President with distinction for five years, beginning on day one of the Administration,” McDonough wrote in an email Friday morning. “He helped manage some of the most complex and sensitive challenges we faced on the Hill and will be missed immensely. Katie is whip smart, and fully understands the challenges and opportunities members of Congress face every day. This is an Administration committed to working with members from both parties to find common sense ways to grow the economy for all Americans. There is nobody better suited to lead our efforts on the Hill than Katie.”
McDonough has personally taken pains to improve relationship with the Hill, and members from both sides say he has been much more responsive to phone calls and emails than his recent predecessors. Fallon will spend the next few weeks meeting with members in both houses and will be tasked with pushing Obama’s climate change plans, overseeing the immigration reform push and, crucially, ensuring a better flow of communication around Affordable Care Act messaging, a major problem during the first weeks of the rollout.
Last week, Phil Schiliro – Obama first and most powerful legislative affairs director – rejoined the administration to help with the troubled Obamacare rollout. But Schiliro, according to a person close to the situation, is expected to stay “months if not weeks” – and is largely tasked with assuaging anxiety among powerful House liberals, including his old boss Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
If the Fallon pick was intended to energize Hill Democrats, who have complained about the lack of coordination with the West Wing for years, the early reviews were encouraging.
“Katie is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and strategic thinkers I have encountered in the three decades I have served in the Senate,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in an email. “Katie has earned my respect and the respect of the Democratic caucus. Few people in the country have as broad an array of strong relationships with members of our caucus as Katie. I cannot think of anyone more qualified for this position, or better poised for success. I have missed working directly with Katie and I look forward to working closely with her again.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Fallon “a key partner” and praised her for “a brilliant understanding of message, communications and policy.”
The Fallon promotion also represents the slow, but steady Schumer-ization of the administration: Fallon is married to former Schumerian Brian Fallon, recently appointed to run Attorney General Eric Holder’s communications shop, and works closely with former Schumer spokesman and current Obama Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz. Schumer’s 29-year-old daughter, Jessica, recently signed on as chief of staff for Chairman of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman.
“There’s nobody - nobody - better suited for this job than Katie,” Schumer kvelled in an email. “The President made a wise choice and it will serve him, the Congress, and the country for the best. Katie has the great ability to listen and then bring people together, and will be able convey the administration’s message in strong but friendly terms to members of both parties.”
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