Obama taps Katie Beirne Fallon to repair relations with Congress

December 13, 2013

President Obama announced Friday that he has tapped White House aide Katie Beirne Fallon,  a veteran Capitol Hill insider with deep relationships with Democratic lawmakers, to bolster his legislative affairs operation.

After a tumultuous year for Obama's congressional agenda, Fallon, a highly regarded policy and political strategist, will take over as director of legislative affairs from Miguel Rodriguez, a lawyer and former foreign policy aide who was relatively unknown among congressional leaders.

Fallon was a longtime aide to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and served as staff director for the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center, which Schumer and Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) run, until May 2013, when she joined the White House as deputy communications director.

"There's nobody — nobody — better suited for this job," Schumer said in a statement about Fallon. "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 to convey the administration's message in strong but friendly terms to members of both parties."

In a statement announcing Fallon's promotion, Obama said, "She has the deep expertise and strong relationships required to build on the progress we've made this year and advance my top priority: creating jobs and expanding broad-based growth and opportunity for every American."

The news of Rodriguez's departure and Fallon's promotion was first reported by Politico on Friday morning.

The move to bolster the White House legislative affairs shop is the latest in a string of personnel changes Obama is making this month, including recruiting former legislative affairs director Phil Schiliro for a temporary assignment helping oversee the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges. Obama also hired John Podesta, former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and one of the Democratic Party's most seasoned strategists, to be a senior counselor.

Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, has been thinking about restructuring the legislative affairs operation to be "more responsive to concerns on the Hill and better calibrated to promote the president's agenda," according to a White House official. After consulting with Obama, McDonough proposed moving Fallon into the job. She met with Obama to diagnose the White House's problems on Capitol Hill, the official said, and Obama asked her to coordinate Obama's climate change agenda and manage legislative strategy around immigration reform and the health-care law.

Fallon will begin her new assignment in January, and an aide said she plans to spend the next few weeks consulting with lawmakers about the 2014 agenda.

"Katie is whip smart, and fully understands the challenges and opportunities members of Congress face every day," McDonough said in a statement. "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.”

Rodriguez, a former Senate aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton who joined the State Department at the start of the Obama administration, is leaving to pursue a job in the private sector.

McDonough said Rodriguez has "helped manage some of the most complex and sensitive challenges we faced on the Hill and will be missed immensely."

In his statement, Obama said, "Throughout some of this year’s most contentious legislative battles, Miguel worked tirelessly to bridge the partisan divide, forge consensus, and seek out solutions that helped us move forward. As the son of immigrants, I know Miguel took particular pride in the Senate’s passage of a bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform plan — something that we are going to see through.  I’m grateful for his service, and I will miss his advice and counsel."

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.
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Ed O'Keefe · December 13, 2013