After the 1994 elections handed Republicans control of the House, freshman Sam Brownback of Kansas searched for a legislative director. His pick: A boyish, almost 25-year-old policy wonk named Paul D. Ryan, who had left the Hill for a policy job.
It was a pivotal career move for Ryan, who during his decades in Washington has amassed a cadre of loyal aides and policy insiders that comprise a seasoned inner circle, helpful to the conditional speaker-in-waiting .
Though the Ways and Means chairman also has a group of tax and budget policy wonks and confidants from the campaign trail when he was Mitt Romney’s running mate, perhaps no job was as significant to that network than Ryan's stint in Brownback’s House and Senate offices.
Ryan is leaning on his informal group of advisers that include such lawmakers as Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas; Joyce Meyer, one of his closest and longest-serving advisers; and Tim McGivern, Brownback's former chief of staff who is now a lobbyist.
They have his ear, of course, and he needs their political counsel more than ever as he seeks to unify the fractured GOP conference, where the establishment and hard-line conservative factions are at war.
On Brownback's staff in the 1990s, Ryan urged McGivern to hire Meyer, who has been with Ryan since he was elected to Congress in 1998, and who currently serves as staff director on Ways and Means.
McGivern, who served as Brownback’s chief of staff in Congress, is considered extremely close to Ryan, according to numerous sources. McGivern, a former top in-house lobbyist at AT&T and now with Ogilvy Government Relations, declined comment.
“Paul has kept up with the old Brownback network forever,” said lobbyist Ari Storch, who was close to the Brownback team. “He has so many friends in so many [congressional] offices, he can reach across the chambers. Paul’s history and knowledge in this town is so deep that very few people have the institutional knowledge and relationships that Paul has.”
Though many longtime lawmakers, such as current Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, build up a big network of alums who now work downtown, Ryan’s K Street ties are smaller. Many of his most loyal aides, such as Meyer, haven’t left his side.
When Ryan traded his Budget Committee gavel for the Ways and Means chairmanship, the lawmaker brought along Austin Smythe. He led the Budget panel staff and currently serves as policy director on Ways and Means. Ryan's wife, Janna, a one-time lobbyist who hailed from a politically connected Democratic family, is also a close adviser to her husband.
Ryan’s notable mentors include his one-time bosses, Jack Kemp, who died in 2009, and William J. Bennett, co-founders of the former think tank Empower America where Ryan worked before taking the legislative director's job on Brownback’s staff.
Andy Speth, whom aides describe as a friend of Ryan’s from their hometown of Janesville, Wis., is chief of staff for the congressional office.
Hill and K Street sources say Ryan and his communications director, Brendan Buck, a former aide to Boehner, forged close ties while Buck was Ryan's press aide during the 2012 presidential campaign. Dan Senor, a former George W. Bush administration official now working on Wall Street, is also close after serving as a top policy adviser for the Romney-Ryan ticket.
Reps. Pat Tiberi, an Ohio Republican and Ways and Means trade subcommittee chairman, is also a strong ally, as is Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee. Ryan's morning workout pals include Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.
“Paul has that rare ability where he's really good at understanding policy and then being able to communicate it in a very simple way that Americans of all stripes can understand,” Tiberi said. “It’s a rare talent. Jack Kemp had it. ... It’s a huge asset for someone to have in a position of the speakership.”
Ryan’s K Street network also includes Howard Waltzman, another former Brownback aide; Michael Thompson, a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs; Cesar Conda, a lobbyist and former Dick Cheney aide and former Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., who met Ryan through Empower America. Ryan also values policy advice from Yuval Levin and Peter Wehner, both fellows with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Ryan press aide said.
“He’s a little bit different from Boehner because he doesn’t have former staffers spread all over Washington,” said Ken Kies, a veteran tax lobbyist, whom Ryan once called in a profile in The Hill newspaper, “the smartest guy in town on the tax code.”
“He’ll be the most policy oriented speaker since Newt Gingrich, and Newt was very policy oriented.”
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.
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