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In a town where public sniping rules the day, trust is in precious little supply and compromise seems out of reach, White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors has managed to build a measure of goodwill that stretches broadly across both sides of the aisle.
Nabors has kept an aggressively low public profile despite years of negotiating trillion-dollar deals, first as staff director of the House Appropriations Committee under former Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) and later rising through the ranks at the White House. There might be no staffer less known but more important in Washington, D.C., as the nation heads this fall into another shutdown showdown and faces looming deadlines for tax increases and spending cuts.
Republicans call him a pro with whom they can work. Congressional Democrats say he almost single-handedly rescued their relationship with the White House after a rocky period last year.
“Rob Nabors was the guy that prevented everything from going off the rails for this president and his relationship with Congress ... through the worst of the worst,” said David Krone, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Last July, in the midst of the ill-fated grand bargain talks between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Democrats ripped into two emissaries from the president — Nabors and then-Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew.
Reports about the “bargain” were leaking — and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) described Senate Democrats’ mood as “volcanic” over not being included in the reported deal.
Lew protested that there was no agreement and that the reports about the deal were wrong. But the meeting marked a low point for the relationship between the White House and Reid. The Majority Leader felt that the White House under the direction of then-Chief of Staff William Daley had embarked on an ill-
advised end run around Democrats.
According to Krone, Nabors sensed the need for damage control and went out of his way to make sure Reid and Krone were briefed.
Reid, in turn, went to bat for Nabors’ position inside the White House.
“He told the president, ‘I don’t trust Daley, I trust Rob,’” Krone said.
Republicans remain deeply unhappy with their relations with the White House, with Boehner last month blasting Obama as having “checked out” since Labor Day last year. But the complaints don’t apply to Nabors.
“The relationship between Congress and this White House has been very strained, but personally on Rob, it’s not his fault. ... Sometimes I wished that he was in charge,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.