Heard on the Hill

Toomey’s Chief of Staff Knows When It’s Time to Go

Christopher Gahan leaves Pa. senator’s office after 14 years on the Hill

Christopher Gahan, outgoing chief of staff for Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, will announce his next move soon. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After getting some job security for another six years, Christopher Gahan decided it was time to leave the Hill.

Grueling election campaigns can leave staffers feeling either invigorated for the next Congress or run-down from the long fight.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey’s staff faced just that after the Pennsylvania Republican’s successful re-election. Gahan, his chief of staff, thought it was a good time to leave Capitol Hill.

[How Pat Toomey Won]

“I realized that I didn’t have the tank to really go the duration yet again,” Gahan, 42, said.

He is joining Northwestern Mutual as vice president of federal relations and will head the company’s D.C. office.

“The senator deserves a chief that’s willing to go through thick and thin yet again,” he said. “It is strange coming from someone who is leaving this job after protecting it, essentially, but when you consider how expensive, how many hours, how crazy this past election cycle was, it does give an appreciation for how lucky we are to be here.” 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee can attest that Gahan went the extra mile for Toomey last cycle.

“I can’t remember a week when Chris wasn’t making calls at night and volunteering every weekend he could,” said Ward Baker, former NRSC executive director. “His reputation was always [of] someone that knew the issues, was a professional in every aspect, and when it came to working with me, he was someone who volunteered. That’s why he has one of the best reputations on the Hill.”

Gahan has more than 14 years of Capitol Hill experience and has been Toomey’s chief of staff since 2011. Before that, he was chief of staff to former Sen. Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican, for whom he started as a staff assistant and legislative correspondent from 1996 to 1998.

He left the Hill to get a law degree from Harvard, worked for a law firm, then returned to Gregg’s office as a legislative assistant in 2004. In five years, he worked his way up to chief.

When Gregg chose not to run for re-election in 2010, Gahan thought he would leave the Hill, too.

“But, the election of 2010 was very successful for the Republicans so, all of a sudden, there were Senate offices that wanted a chief,” Gahan said.

A mutual connection put him in touch with Toomey. “I literally just went up and grabbed lunch with him in Allentown, [Pennsylvania] and within 24 hours, it was consummated,” he laughed. 

Gahan said the hardest thing about being a chief of staff was knowing not to take things personally.

“When your boss’ job is in jeopardy in a re-elect and the staff that you manage, their jobs are in jeopardy at the re-elect, it’s just a lot of pressure,” he said. “It’s not just my boss, he becomes your friend. That’s something that can take a toll.”

Since coming to the Hill in the 1990s, Gahan said two things have made the job harder: technology and partisanship.

“Things just happen really fast so you really can’t let your guard down and it does just add [to] this idea of a 24/7 job,” he said. “It can be managed but just takes a lot of effort.”

While he worked for two GOP senators in states where the other senator was a Democrat and was able to get things done, Gahan said he worries that “the trendlines seem to be going in the wrong direction.”

Appropriately, his first piece of advice for staffers is to respect the opposition.

“It really is foolish to burn bridges,” he said.

Secondly, don’t be a snob: “Everyone does an important job here so you should treat them with courtesy, regardless.”

And finally, don’t overthink things: “The founders made the legislative process deliberately very cumbersome so you usually have another bite at the apple. … It’s a good way to kind of not burn yourself out by taking everything out of proportion.”

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