Everybody knows Dave Hoppe — at least that’s how it seems in Washington's GOP circles.
Presuming Paul D. Ryan wins the gavel later this week, one of the youngest House members to become speaker picked a grownup with reach across the Capitol to run his operation. Hoppe, 64, could play a pivotal role brokering signature legislative items that make it to the White House.
In selecting Hoppe well ahead of Thursday's floor vote, Ryan, 45, also signaled he realizes it’s go time and that he can't delay. Hoppe, a lobbyist at one of the city’s biggest firms, Squire Patton Boggs, will assemble a staff that will help Ryan steer a fractured GOP conference through the fallout from mega policy fights. “It is a monumental challenge,” said Michael Johnson, chief of staff from 1977 to 1990 to Bob Michel, a former House Republican leader. Johnson, now a lobbyist with the OB-C Group, worked with Hoppe when both were House leadership aides.
“The importance of Hoppe is not just his resume,” Johnson said. “It’s that his leadership experience crosses generations on the Republican side.” Hoppe spans the pragmatic Ronald Reagan years and the feisty, Newt Gingrich-led Contract with America revolution to today’s open rebellion by the House Freedom Caucus within the GOP.
“It’s an almost ungovernable situation now,” Johnson said. “Hoppe has experience through all of those transitions, so, there aren’t too many people on the planet more qualified for that job.”
Hoppe, who referred comment to Ryan’s communications director Brendan Buck, was already heading to the Capitol on Monday, said his current colleague and one-time Hill boss Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. To avoid any potential conflict of interest, Hoppe "has ceased all lobbying activity and is no longer working on client matters," according to Angelo Kakolyris, a Squire Patton Boggs spokesman.
Lott, who entrusted Hoppe to run his Senate majority leader office, said he told Hoppe to deliver a message to Ryan: He's happy Ryan is willing to serve as speaker but sad the Wisconsin Republican is nabbing Lott's longtime aide, who had just joined the Squire Patton Boggs team earlier this year.
“Paul is a policy wonk, so most of the people around him are policy people. Now, the speaker's office needs a different set of criteria,” Lott said. “Dave has those relationships on both sides of the Capitol. It was a brilliant stroke. ... You need the blend of experience and youth.”
Ryan is expected to select Joyce Meyer, one of his closest and longest-serving aides, for a key role in the speaker's office. She is currently staff director of Ways and Means, the panel Ryan currently leads. He likely will also pull Buck, a former aide to Speaker John A. Boehner and current Ways and Means communications director, and policy director Austin Smythe from the panel to the speaker’s office.
Ryan may also leave in place Boehner aides, say former House leadership aides and lobbyists, particularly in positions that are specific only to the speaker’s staff. Boehner chief of staff Mike Sommers could remain on at least briefly to smooth the transition. Ryan also has ties to David Stewart, Boehner’s policy director who took a leave of absence during the 2012 presidential campaign to advise Ryan.
“My advice is: Figure out the structure you need to support the speaker and then think about who are the candidates that have the skill set,” said Dan Meyer, a lobbyist at the Duberstein Group, who ran Gingrich’s staff until 1996.
Meyer — no relation to Joyce Meyer — added that Ryan and Hoppe have the advantage of drawing from a long list of experienced leadership aides, including from Boehner’s office and from Ways and Means. But, he noted, they have the disadvantage of taking on the job in the middle of a frenetic legislative session.
"I can't imagine that there won't be a lot of use in keeping people or at least getting their deep advice about how this should be handled and structured," said Terry Holt, a former Boehner aide now a partner with the consulting firm HDMK.
Lott noted that Hoppe was his top aide as Senate majority leader while Bill Clinton was president — not unlike the situation Ryan's entering now. Lott ticked off numerous legislative achievements during that time of divided government, including overhauling the welfare system and balancing the federal budget.
“We did a whole string of things when we had a Republican Congress and a Democrat in the White House,” Lott said.
Dave Schnittger, a former Boehner aide who is now a senior policy adviser at Lott’s lobby shop, likened Hoppe’s task to staffing up for Boehner when the Ohio Republican became House majority leader in February 2006.
“You have to start doing the job from day one and dealing with legislative issues that are on the floor right then,” Schnittger said.
Hoppe would provide invaluable counsel, particularly on Senate maneuverings, he said.
“For instance, imagine a situation where someone offers a particular tactic on a bill the House is assembling, and with Dave Hoppe there, he can say with authority, 'That sounds like a great idea, but let me tell you what the Senate is going to do,'” Schnittger said. “And he’ll be right.”
Former Rep. Bob Walker, R-Pa., who was close to Gingrich when he was speaker, said Hoppe’s hire means Ryan puts a “high premium” on competence.
“He’s sending a signal with Dave that, ‘OK, I’m a policy wonk, but I also recognize that the speaker’s job is a management job, and I’m picking somebody as a chief of staff who will help on the management end of the job.'”
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