Speaker John Boehners general counsel, Jo-Marie St. Martin, is the most powerful female aide in the House. She is one of the few senior staffers whom the Ohio Republican turns to on major decisions.
Jo-Marie St. Martin may be the most influential woman working in Congress whom you’ve never heard of.
As general counsel and chief of legislative operations for Speaker John Boehner, St. Martin holds the distinction of being the most senior female staffer in the House. She sits at the center of the Ohio Republican’s power structure, charged with overseeing his floor and legal operations.
“She has the Speaker’s absolute trust,” one Republican lobbyist said.
Chief institutionalist among a staff of institutionalists, St. Martin speaks with Boehner daily and is one of the few senior aides with whom the Speaker consults on major decisions. She has worked for Boehner in various capacities for the past 11 years.
“Jo-Marie is an invaluable counselor who helps ensure the House truly functions — as it should — as the Peoples’ House,” Boehner told Roll Call in a statement.
St. Martin’s abilities were on display during last month’s continuing resolution debate; she played a critical role helping oversee a rare open process that resulted in hours of debate on hundreds of amendments.
“I tell Boehner in order to accomplish this, this is what we are going to face, and he’s fine, he understands,” St. Martin said in a recent interview. “He’s like, ‘Yes, I understand that, we can handle that and we can explain it, and as long as everyone knows what they are doing and they are informed, they are grown-ups and they can make decisions.’”
St. Martin said she sees her role as a “caretaker” — making sure Boehner’s vision for the House is carried out.
“What I provide for him is that expertise and guidance about what it is that is regular order under the House rules and what it is we should be doing and how we should be doing it,” St. Martin said.
During the CR debate, House Republicans broke precedent by bringing legislation to the floor under an open rule. “It was an appropriate thing to do, and it was the right thing to do,” St. Martin said.
Colleagues say St. Martin’s strengths are her steadiness and knowledge of how the chamber operates.
“She’s very strong and determined, and I think because of that she can stay focused on the goal,” said Hugh Halpern, staff director for the House Rules Committee who has worked with her for more than a decade.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.