After months of turbulent relations with Capitol Hill Democrats, the White House is reshuffling its congressional outreach staff, with Legislative Affairs director Miguel Rodriguez departing the administration and longtime Schumer aide and current White House deputy director of communications Katie Beirne Fallon stepping into the role.
Fallon, who only recently joined the White House from Capitol Hill, is being promoted to rebuild bridges, in particular with Senate Democrats, the White House said. “[White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough] has been thinking about how to restructure Leg Affairs so that it is deemed to be more responsive to concerns on the Hill and better calibrated to promote the President’s agenda,” a White House official said, explaining the decision. Rodriguez will pursue other opportunities in the private sector. News of the personnel moves was first reported by POLITICO.
Hill aides in both parties have routinely criticized Rodriguez, the hand-picked successor to Rob Nabors who became Deputy Chief of Staff, as not having the connections on Capitol Hill or the clout inside the White House necessary for the position. McDonough set up a meeting between Obama and Fallon recently to “diagnose the challenges the White House faces with the Hill and come up with a plan for addressing them.”
“Once transitioned, Katie will be coordinating implementation of the President’s climate action plan with the Hill, manage legislative strategy around immigration reform and ensure a better flow of communication around ACA implementation,” the official said.
The selection of a communications aide for the role highlights the growing importance of messaging in a second term that has been short on actual legislating. Democrats concede that both climate and immigration legislation are nearly impossible to push through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, but they are potent electoral arguments, and health care reform stands to be Democrats’ largest electoral liability in the coming midterm elections. Fallon has already led efforts to coordinate Democrats’ messaging over the bungled healthcare roll out, organizing “strike teams” on Capitol Hill.
“Miguel has served this President with distinction for five years, beginning on day one of the Administration,” McDonough said in an email Friday. “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.”
In a statement, Obama thanked Rodriguez for his service and praised Fallon’s “deep expertise and strong relationships” on the Hill. “Miguel Rodriguez has served in my Administration from day one,” Obama said. “After a tour with Secretary Clinton at the State Department, he joined my staff in October 2011 before agreeing to serve as my Director of Legislative Affairs earlier this year. And 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, but I am pleased that Katie Beirne Fallon has agreed to serve as my next Director of Legislative Affairs. As a veteran of Congress, and my Deputy Director of Communications, 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.”