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Incoming White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew has Hill Democrats hoping for closer relations, while Republicans are largely shrugging off the pick.
One senior Democratic aide pointed to Lew’s long history as a House aide, dating back to 1973, and his budget acumen as valuable attributes after a year with outgoing chief William Daley.
“He’s a staffer and understands the wants and needs of the Hill and how best to manage those issues and personalities,” the aide said. “Daley didn’t because he was coming at this as an executive would, not as a staffer would. I think at minimum, Hill relations will improve.”
Daley had a rocky relationship with top Democrats, and members of both parties felt he had been marginalized by the middle of last year, when the White House shifted from wooing top Republicans to a grand debt bargain amid a series of failed negotiations to attacking them from afar as obstructionists defending tax breaks for the rich at all cost.
Still, Daley was one of the few members of the administration with whom Republican Senators regularly talk. Republican aides shrugged off the idea that Lew would usher in a dramatic shift, because they see Obama’s political operation effectively running the show, and they are focused on running against Congress instead of cutting deals.
But the Democratic staffer said somebody still has to make the trains run on time and that Lew is well-suited to that role.
“The campaign is the campaign,” the aide said. That “doesn’t change the fact that we’ll have some real fights around here and that someone with Hill experience and know-how will be needed.”
As to be expected, Democrats wished Daley well in their public statements while praising Lew.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Lew “a consummate professional with intimate knowledge of Congress” and “uniquely qualified” for the post. The Nevada Democrat praised Daley for “handling crises few chiefs of staff have had to face,” including the debt showdown and shutdown threats from the GOP.
Publicly, some Republicans were harsher today.
“The fact is even Obama’s point man to the business community knew his policies were too wrought with liberal activism and stifling regulation to create jobs,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) also released a statement criticizing Lew for his defense of Obama’s budget last year.
But the top Republicans, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), held their fire.