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From Cantor to K Street

Greg Nash

Ask Kyle Nevins, who left House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) staff in March, what he likes best about now being on K Street, and the answer might surprise you: Working with Democrats.

“That’s the refreshing thing about being downtown: You’ve got a former House Democrat sitting across the table from you, a Republican. You don’t really see any of that anymore on the Hill,” Nevins said. “And the issue is how are we going to solve that for the client. That’s been a really nice change.” 

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Nevins, 33, joined the lobbying firm Capitol Counsel in March after 10 years working in House Republican leadership offices. Former colleagues say he knows the current set of GOP representatives as well as anyone around. 

The former Cantor deputy chief of staff loved working for the Virginia Republican, whom he reveres like a wise older brother. But he said serving as majority floor manager during the huge fiscal fights of 2011 and 2012 was stressful. 

“The process has gotten very antagonistic, and that is disheartening because you want to get solutions instead of going from crisis to crisis. There is so much friction in the place,” Nevins told The Hill in an interview at his new office. “I had kind of gotten to the point were I was a little bit burned out.”

At Capitol Counsel, Nevins works closely with former House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Jim McCrery (R-La.). The firm focuses about 60 percent of its practice on tax issues, and top clients for Nevins include General Electric, Wal-Mart, and the Blackstone Group.

The firm is equally split between Democrats and Republicans, and those specializing on the Senate and the House, a feature that drew Nevins to work there. 

The North Carolina native, who lives in the District with his wife, Kristan, has long been drawn toward bipartisanship. When he left the House, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) took floor time to praise him.

“He’s been a real delight to work with,” Hoyer said. 

Nevins got his start in Washington when he was still at Duke University by interning for then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas). After college, Nevins was able to network an interview with then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) who was taking over as whip when DeLay became majority leader.

The young man’s future hinged on the sit-down meeting, which was almost canceled by bizarre weather.

“It was November 2002, and there was a freak snowstorm. All the offices were closed, and I was supposed to interview that day. I couldn’t get from Georgetown into the office,” Nevins remembered.

In the end, he got there and got a job as Blunt’s “body man.”  The next challenge was overcoming the fact that the punctual, well-prepared Blunt didn’t really need a body man.

“Roy’s always on time; he’s always well-prepared. He doesn’t need you bothering him,” Nevins said. 

Soon, an opportunity to work as a floor assistant opened up, and Nevins reached for it. 

“That is what is so attractive to people coming out of college, that you have the ability to influence all these issues really without any experience, which is also a bit scary. These are kids without any experience in life,” he said. 

After six years, Blunt’s deputy, Cantor, took over as minority whip. 

“Roy is of a different generation. He’s more of a Steny Hoyer type, old school. With Eric, you almost feel like he’s a peer, and you feel like you are on the same level, even though you’re not. It’s almost like an older brother,” Nevins said. 

Cantor for his part has effusive praise for Nevins.

“I valued Kyle’s daily counsel for over 10 years in the whip and leader offices.  He was a tremendous resource for me, the leadership team, our committees and the House,” the leader said through a spokesman.

Nevins said that he sees Cantor rising to be Speaker one day, but that reports of rivalry between Cantor and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are overblown. 

“I think it’s fair to say that Boehner and Eric are two different styles of leadership. Boehner is a consensus builder, and he likes the process to bubble up from the members.  I think Eric likes to drive an outcome, and he can identify early on what that outcome can be, and he wants to push for it right away,” he said.

Nevins said an example of this is the 2013 farm bill, where Cantor pushed for larger changes to the food stamp program in order to reduce the deficit. 

Nevins said that Cantor has a unique talent for reading members but that it has been challenged by the 2011 freshman class.

“Dealing with 70-plus new guys all at once, a lot of them don’t have legislative experience.  Just teaching them the nuts and bolts … took a long time,” he said. 

Leadership staff was strained to the breaking point when the brand-new majority needed to pass a bill to avoid a government shutdown. 

“On top of that, they were elected with a mandate on [repealing] the Affordable Care Act and on [reducing] spending … and they wanted immediate results,” he added. “That ran up against D.C. where it is almost impossible to get immediate results.”

Nevins said he sees more crisis politics ahead for the House as long as Obama is president. He added that the House GOP is not eager for another shutdown.

“The likelihood that we are going to default or going to see another government shutdown is miniscule,” he said. “It obviously wasn’t politically popular.”

The polls will likely improve for the GOP over the next two months, Nevins predicted.

“I don’t think the majority is at risk. Redistricting in 2010 has solidified the state of play for the next decade. It will be near impossible for Democrats to change that before the end of the decade,” he said. 

On the upcoming budget conference, Cantor is likely to defer more to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Nevins predicted. 

He said that in addition to some sort of budget agreement, tax reform and immigration reform are still possible in this Congress, especially if Obama shows greater willingness to compromise.

“Like anything in this Congress tax reform is challenging just because of the political environment we are in,” he said. “On the other hand, it is probably more likely now than it has ever been since the 1980s, so everybody is paying attention for good reason.”

He noted, however, that an election year is approaching, “so the window is shrinking,” to get something done.

Clients like GE are keen to help move the process forward and to see tax code improvements come out of the upcoming budget conference, Nevins added.

“What motivates the companies is much different than what motivates members. In some sense, it is much more logical what motivates the companies,” he said. “It’s much more black and white.”

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