Meet the woman who is Trump's new emissary to Capitol Hill

Meet the woman who is Trump's new emissary to Capitol Hill
© Getty Images

President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE has tapped a Capitol Hill and K Street veteran to lead his legislative affairs office, a move that comes as he pushes to get Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh confirmed this fall.

Legislative affairs director Shahira Knight, 47, began Monday and succeeds Marc Short, who served as the White House’s point man in Congress during the successful tax-cut campaign and the failed effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

ADVERTISEMENT

Knight played a key role in developing the tax law Trump signed last year, when she worked on the White House’s National Economic Council. Before that she was as a lobbyist in the financial sector and an aide with the House Ways and Means Committee and Joint Economic Committee.

Those who have worked with Knight say she’s smart when it comes to both policy and politics. She’ll need those skills as she works to get the White House agenda enacted, which could become even more complicated if Democrats win back control of the House in the November midterm elections.

“People know Shahira as a quick study, whip smart on policy, and a source of prudent counsel,” said Brendan Dunn, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.) who now works at the law firm Akin Gump LLP. “Those virtues were on ready display throughout the tax-reform effort, and it is hard to imagine a skill set better suited for White House leg affairs.”

Knight’s role will be to communicate Trump’s priorities to Congress and to convey to the White House what’s achievable on Capitol Hill.

She has some similarities with her predecessor; Short’s background also includes time as a Capitol Hill aide. But unlike Short, who often appeared on television in his White House role, Knight is expected to be more of a behind-the-scenes player.

“I would not expect her to be on TV at all,” said a former senior White House official who asked not to be named. “She is very private.”

One of Knight’s top priorities will be to ensure Kavanaugh’s smooth confirmation. His nomination appears to be on track, since no Republicans have signaled that they will vote against him.

Given her background in tax policy, Knight will also likely be involved in the Trump administration’s efforts to pass another round of tax cuts that would include making permanent the 2017 law’s cuts for individuals. A group of Ways and Means Committee Republicans met with Trump to discuss the topic on Tuesday.

Knight is also expected to play a role in negotiations over spending legislation, with the current government funding law expiring Sept. 30.

But the biggest challenges may come after the midterms. If Democrats win control of the House, they are likely to launch numerous investigations into the administration and request thousands of documents from the White House. Some Democratic lawmakers have even been calling for Trump’s impeachment.

Given Democrats’ dislike of Trump’s policies, it may be hard for Knight to get them on board with the administration’s goals, like a “phase two” of tax cuts. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWyden says foreign hackers targeted personal accounts of senators, staffers Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless MORE (D-Ore.) said that “the policies start at the top.”

“She’s going to be carrying out Trump policies on taxes, and it’s pretty clear [that] after racking up close to $2 trillion worth of debt, I guess they want to come back for more,” Wyden said.

Those familiar with Knight’s work say she has strong relationships with lawmakers and staff, including some Democrats, from her time as an aide on Capitol Hill.

In an interview with The Hill in 2006, shortly after leaving the Ways and Means Committee, Knight said she’s “not a partisan Republican at all” and has “always had good relationships with my Democratic counterparts.”

The White House did not make Knight available for an interview for this article.

She first started at the House Ways and Means Committee in the 1990s and rose through the ranks to become a senior adviser to then-Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). After her departure from Capitol Hill, she worked as a lobbyist for places like the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and Fidelity Investments.

Early last year, she joined the Trump administration as an aide in the National Economic Council, with a focus on tax and retirement issues. Her work advising Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods Trump: China tariff announcement to come Monday afternoon Trump could hit China with tariffs of 0 billion as soon as Monday MORE and now-former council Director Gary CohnGary David CohnPoll: Majority believes Woodward book and NY Times op-ed about Trump admin Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president On The Money: Trump announces new China tariffs | Wall Street salaries hit highest level since 2008 | GOP bets the House on the economy MORE during the 2017 tax debate garnered her praise from colleagues, lawmakers and others involved in the process.

“She helped two very smart people — Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin — understand how the process works in Washington and helped guide a strategy behind the scenes,” the former senior White House official said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse GOP bill a mixed bag for retirement savers China imposes new tariffs on billion of US goods: report Trump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods MORE (R-Texas) said Knight played “an incredibly constructive role” on the tax law.

Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, said Knight not only has a detailed knowledge of tax policy that was useful, but she also understood the economic impact of tax decisions.

“To my way of thinking, she was an incredibly valuable person within the administration to really handle the nitty-gritty details of tax reform,” he said.

Marc Gerson, who worked with Knight when they were both with Ways and Means and is now at Miller and Chevalier, said that Knight was very willing to meet with outside stakeholders while the tax bill was being developed. He added that she asked thoughtful questions.

“I think people viewed that she was very fair but still tough,” Gerson said.

Many congressional tax staffers and administration officials took jobs in the private sector following the tax law’s enactment, and Knight almost followed suit. Before taking the White House legislative affairs job, she had plans to take a job at a banking trade group being formed by the merger of The Clearing House Association and the Financial Services Roundtable.

While some observers were surprised that Knight decided to stay in the White House, others weren’t, given that director of legislative affairs has historically been a prestigious position.

“It’s fair to say that this is a job that doesn’t come along all that often,” said Jon Traub, who worked for a Ways and Means Committee member while Knight worked for the tax-writing panel.

Traub, who is now managing principal of tax policy at Deloitte, added that Knight is “not naive about what she’s getting into.”

Knight’s former colleagues said the skills that made her an asset during the tax-reform effort will be strengths for her in her new role as she advocates for Trump on a variety of topics.

“She is an honest broker, doesn’t over promise,” Traub said. “Her word, I think, is really her bond.”