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“We’ve been in some very delicate negotiations, and I trust him,” said Steve Stombres, chief of staff for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Stombres, who has known Nabors since high school, continued: “If you can trust somebody, you can work with him. If you can find common ground, Rob’s the kind of guy who can find it.”
Nabors declined to be quoted for this article.
Before the grand bargain saga, Nabors impressed Krone as he took a leading role in negotiating the April 2011 deal to avert the first shutdown showdown between the administration and the new Republican House.
Krone and Nabors didn’t know each other well at first. Jim Messina had been Krone’s primary contact, and he pointed Krone to Nabors.
They quickly hit it off, and with a shutdown approaching, Nabors, Krone and Boehner’s chief of staff, Barry Jackson, held round-the-clock negotiations to head it off. By the end, Nabors was practically living in Krone’s office.
A little more than an hour before the midnight deadline, the trio shook hands on the deal in a fourth-floor room tucked away in the Capitol, averting the first serious shutdown threat in a generation.
Both sides got some of what they wanted — Boehner could sell a $38 billion spending cut to his tea party wing and the White House managed to structure the deal to push off most of the pain while protecting priorities such as Obama’s signature health care overhaul and funding for Planned Parenthood.
In an interview, Lew, now chief of staff, praised Nabors as someone who is “creative” in looking for solutions that would work for both parties. Lew said Nabors deserves a lot of credit for helping avert the April shutdown in a way that preserved the president’s priorities.
“If you have a passion for public service and a commitment to getting things done, [you want to] find solutions that work for both sides,” Lew said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t have to draw lines.”
With the August 2011 debt deal, Nabors would again play a key role — even penning the last offer the administration sent to Boehner’s office before the Speaker pulled out of the grand bargain talks for the second and final time.
After the deal fell apart and a fallback trigger and cuts were passed instead, relations with Hill Democrats improved. The president shifted to his jobs act — a far easier sell to his party than the cuts to Medicare he had floated to Boehner.
Reid now meets weekly with Nabors, and Krone credits him with keeping Reid and the president on the same page.
Working with Reid instead of around him paid off, Krone said, with the endgame on the payroll tax cut deal, for example. Senate Democrats decided to stand their ground days before Christmas last year and refused to pass a House GOP payroll tax bill. It wouldn’t have worked if the White House hadn’t stood shoulder to shoulder with Reid on that decision, which ultimately forced House leaders to cave and pass a bipartisan Senate measure.
“You stick with your wingman,” Krone said. “Things could have been really bad and really off track. Nabors was that glue that kept them and us in sync.”