Politics

Rising Stars 2017: Hill Staffers

Two experienced hands make the list

Two Capitol Hill staffers are among CQ Roll Call’s Rising Stars of 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Over the course of this week, CQ Roll Call is taking a look at 17 Rising Stars of 2017 — people who will now wield power and influence in a Washington that has been turned upside down by the presidency of Donald Trump.

Some of the names are familiar, others have recently burst on the scene. They include members of Congress, congressional and administration staffers, and advocates.

Our second installment looks at two Capitol Hill staffers to look out for in 2017.

Kelle Strickland | Christian Brose

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2017 issue of CQ Magazine.

Kelle Strickland

Kelle Strickland is chief of staff to Texas Rep. Michael C. Burgess. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Kelle Strickland is chief of staff to Texas Rep. Michael C. Burgess. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

BY DAVID HAWKINGS

CQ ROLL CALL

Plenty of congressional aides make their mark by knowing complex issues as well as any lawmaker. Others become power players by helping members navigate the Hill’s interpersonal complexities. Kelle Strickland has long stood out in that latter camp, and this spring, her skill is being put to the most high-profile test of her 14-year career.

As chief of staff to GOP Rep. Michael C. Burgess of Texas, the new chairman of Energy and Commerce’s Health Subcommittee, Strickland is one of the staffers central to the GOP leadership’s efforts to survive the biggest challenge of the year — to secure enactment of a replacement to the 2010 health care law.

“My job is to help my boss recognize opportunities for growing consensus,” she says. “For me, that’s more of a relationship-based process than a policy-based process.”

Other aides and lobbyists credit Strickland with managing the year-long back-channel campaign by Burgess, her boss since 2012 and the longest-serving physician in the 115th Congress, to best Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania for the Health panel gavel.

Strickland, 46, has an inside perspective on most House members — more than three-quarters of them arrived after she did. After a summer internship on the Hill in 1990 and a short career as a lawyer, she moved to Washington in 2003 to become legislative director for her Alabama hometown congressman, Jo Bonner. She helped him secure a seat on the Appropriations Committee and was his counsel as chairman of the Ethics Committee during a busy and contentious 2011-12.

Bonner, now a vice chancellor at the University of Alabama, says “her great people skills and ability to read a room instinctively” were central to his ability to secure unanimous bipartisan votes for every disciplinary action meted out in that time.

Her expansive and deep network of congressional staffers — and former aides who have “gone downtown” — is also central to Strickland’s influence. Dozens of interns and junior aides she hired are now elsewhere at the Capitol or on K Street. She works at the behest of the GOP leadership to coach more junior chiefs of staff, and this year, she’s head of the association of current and former Senate and House staff directors known as RAMS.

Strickland has also been a critical mentor for women on the Hill too, says Brenda Becker, a top lobbyist for the medical device maker Boston Scientific who was previously Vice President Dick Cheney’s liaison to the Hill.

“In a town still dominated by men, Kelle has stood out in making sure the women are knowing and supporting one another,” says Becker.

Christian Brose

Christian Brose joined the Senate Armed Services Committee staff in 2009. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Christian Brose joined the Senate Armed Services Committee staff in 2009. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

BY MEGAN SCULLY

CQ ROLL CALL

Christian Brose, the 37-year-old staff director of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, has risen quickly through Washington’s national security ranks, but the Philadelphia-area native doesn’t let his role as Chairman John McCain’s right-hand man go to his head.

Brose sees his role as an opportunity to help the Arizona Republican and the committee’s other members push their priorities, which include everything from overhauling the Pentagon’s acquisition system to devising new cybersecurity policies and strategies in an increasingly complex world.

“I’m like a Sherpa,” Brose quips from his spacious office in Russell. “I carry bags, I assist them in the work that they’re doing.”

Brose, who lives near the Capitol with his wife and two young boys, started his career in government 13 years ago, working as a speechwriter for secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Under Rice, he began to take on more of a policy role, an experience that benefited him when he joined the Senate Armed Services Committee staff in 2009.

Over the past eight years, Brose has worked for both the committee and McCain’s personal office, taking the job as the panel’s staff director when McCain became chairman in 2015.

The two men have traveled together to some 70-odd countries. They have also pushed the massive annual Pentagon policy bill through Congress, despite differences with both the White House and their counterparts in the House.

“There’s the old saying, ‘No man’s a hero to his valet,’” Brose says. “But, in this case, it’s actually not true. I’m reminded on a regular basis I have the privilege of waking up every day and coming to work for a genuine hero.”

These days McCain often finds himself at odds with President Donald Trump, putting Brose at the center of some interesting and high-profile policy debates. But Brose says the panel wants to work with the new administration on areas of agreement, particularly growing the Pentagon budget.

“The overriding view here is we are eager to work with the White House,” he says. “We have a lot of areas of common interest and we are eager to get working on that together.”

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