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Exit Interview: James Brandell Shares Greatest Regret, Memories of Pop Stars

He’s seen plenty of people — including his fair share of celebrities — come and go during his decade-plus tenure on Capitol Hill. But House Republican aide James Brandell wouldn’t trade his time in Congress for anything.  

Brandell has served as chief of staff to retiring Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., since 2001, an experience he’s relished every step of the way.  

Rep. Paul Ryan (left), R-Wis., joins retiring Rep. Dave Camp (center), R-Mich., and Camp chief of staff Jim Brandell (right) in commemorating the new research grant Brandell created in Camp's honor to distribute all the money raised for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. (Courtesy Leukemia & Lymphoma Society)

Rep. Paul Ryan (left), R-Wis., joins retiring Camp (center) and Brandell in commemorating the new research grant Brandell created in Camp's honor to distribute all the money raised for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. (Courtesy Leukemia & Lymphoma Society)

The two have become even closer in recent years, with Camp battling cancer during the same time Brandell helped flood the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society with fundraising dollars.  

Per Brandell, Sept. 11, 2001, is indelibly etched into his memory as the wildest ride here on the Hill, while the day, nearly a decade later, that Camp assumed control of the Ways and Means Committee ranks as one of the most satisfying. (Appearing on a reality TV show must have been just OK.)  

Along the way, Brandell said he’s had the privilege of working alongside some pretty terrific colleagues, including: Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., “His Southern drawl and humor can charm anyone,” Brandell said; Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., “His office was across the hall from ours in Cannon when he was in the House, and he was always friendly and outgoing to my staff and me.”; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., “He knows how to bring appropriate levity to any situation. A real gift.”; Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., “Has the best one-liners of anyone I know.” and Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., “I have never seen her without a smile.”  

He also had fun participating in that most insidery congressional pastime : conducting Dome tours.  

“In 2006, while giving pop star Belinda Carlisle and her son Duke a Capitol tour, we ran into [ex-]Congressman Joe Schwarz who I introduced as the congressman who represents Pop Tarts (i.e. Battle Creek, Michigan),” Brandell explained via email about his favorite cameo.  

In addition to showing the former Go-Go’s frontwoman around, Brandell recalls winding through the halls of Congress with professional golfer Jhonattan Vegas, pop rockers Midi Matilda and folk singer Josh Ritter.  

His greatest regret?  

“Never getting the chance to give Duran Duran a tour of the Capitol,” he said of the ′80s icons. “But then again since they are British, we didn't need a repeat of what happened during the War of 1812.”  

To wit, Brandell related how one civics reject totally threw him for a loop.  

"Which wing does the president live in?" a tourist once wondered aloud.  

More than anything, Brandell appears genuinely grateful that he got to see and do it all.  

“After 14 years on the Hill, someone told me this quote from Dr. Seuss which sums it up perfectly: ‘Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened,’” he shared.  

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