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Like many great love affairs, this one started late at night. Jim Manley fell for the Senate during the long evenings he worked after arriving on Capitol Hill in 1993.
The notorious workaholic recalls coming in early and staying well into the night. That’s when the building empties of tourists, when the only people left are Senators and staffers plotting out strategies and the reporters lurking in the hallways.
“Everybody knows the best stuff only occurs late at night,” says Manley, who plans to leave the Senate after 18 years, having served most recently as chief spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
To Manley, 49, one of the most powerful aides on Capitol Hill, that “best stuff” is the stuff on which he has long thrived — the deal-making, the adrenaline, and always, the spin.
But for all his reverence for the institution, Manley is known among colleagues and reporters for never taking it all too seriously.
“He always got the absurdity of the place, even when it was melting around him,” says veteran New York Times reporter Carl Hulse. “He’s someone who really loves the culture, but you always knew he got the joke, whatever goofy thing had just happened.”
Manley and his House-side counterpart, Brendan Daly, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), often publicly jab one another. In private, though, they share many laughs about their cross-Dome one-upsmanship. “We’re always giving each other grief,” says Daly, who is also leaving the Hill.
In February, after a record-breaking snowfall sidelined Washington, Daly gave the following quote to the Wall Street Journal: “Recovering from this blizzard demands patience, cooperation, collaboration and teamwork. Unfortunately, the Senate is in session this week.” Afterward, Manley sent Daly a taunting e-mail.
The cross-Capitol parrying goes both ways. In Friday’s Wall Street Journal story on the tax bill, Manley dissed the House. “This vote demonstrates they may be irrelevant to this process,” he said of Daly’s employ.
Manley broke into a wide grin when recalling the quote.
For years, Manley has endeared himself to reporters by being accessible and honest. He’s known to return a BlackBerry message into the early morning hours and frequently makes loops through the press galleries, dropping by reporters’ desks to hammer home a messaging point. Often those visits are simply to casually dispense useful tips for reporters: his best guess on what time the chamber would adjourn, perhaps, or a heads-up on a floor speech Reid was about to deliver.
Not that there wasn’t tension between the spokesman and the spoken-to. Manley has yelled at reporters he thought were missing — or skewing — a point to the detriment of his boss; reporters often yelled back. But he doesn’t hold grudges, many scribes note. “I would go to the mat to defend a position, but then you leave it at that, you wake up, and today’s another day,” he says.