The decision to name a protege of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as head of the White House legislative affairs office is being taken as a sign that Senate Democrats will have growing power over the political agenda for 2014.
The replacement of Miguel Rodriguez with Katie Beirne Fallon came as a shock to some former administration officials, who noted that Fallon was chosen over internal candidates with more experience.
The move is all the more remarkable coming after the White House brought back Phil Schiliro, a former director of the White House legislative affairs shop, to advise it on healthcare policy. Schiliro is a former aide to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) who is trusted by congressional Democrats.
The White House shakeup also included bringing in John Podesta, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton.
Democrats lacked confidence in Rodriguez, who had been heavily criticized during the rollout of ObamaCare, which has angered Senate Democrats worried it could cost their party its majority in the fall.
The White House has taken a number of actions to try to calm them, including an unpublicized meeting with Sen. Michael Benett (Colo.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair, to try to improve coordination and messaging with Senate Democrats.
Hiring Beirne Fallon is the biggest move yet.
In picking her, White House chief of staff passed over Jon Samuels, who has been on the White House legislative affairs team since the early days of the president's first term.
Beirne Fallon came to the White House as a deputy communications director earlier this year from Schumer’s orbit, and is taking the reins of the legislative shop at a difficult time for President Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Some will look at the hire as giving Schumer, who is already seen as a major strategic force in Democratic politics, too much influence at the White House.
“Putting Katie in the position is definitely taking a leap of faith,” the former aide said. “But she'll have some work cut out for her in proving that she's not just a Schumer plant or prop. But Katie is professional enough that I think she'll win people over quickly.”
Senate Democrats, however, will see the hiring as good news.
Schumer praised the personnel decision, calling Fallon a “wise choice.”
“There's nobody — nobody — better suited for this job,” Schumer said in a statement. “Katie has the great ability to listen and then bring people together, and will be able to convey the administration's message in strong but friendly terms to members of both parties."
The former officials said it is clear that Bierne Fallon’s hiring was meant to make Senate Democrats happy.
While Rodriguez had a close relationship with senior White House staff, the former official said Congress wanted “someone they knew better.”
Of Rodriguez, the official said: “It's been said over and over again but no one really knew who he was."