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 TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could 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 McConnellBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' Winners and losers in the border security deal House passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency 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 WydenDem lawmaker: 'Trump's presidency is the real national emergency' Dems introduce bill to take gender-specific terms out of tax code to make it LGBT-inclusive 8 surprising times our intel community spied on US citizens 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 MnuchinThe next two years of federal housing policy could be positive under Mark Calabria The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? Trump mulling 60-day delay for China tariff deadline MORE and now-former council Director Gary CohnGary David CohnChristie: Trump doesn’t give nicknames to people he respects On The Money: Congress pivots to prevent another shutdown | Trump hits Venezuelan oil company with sanctions | US criminal charges filed against Huawei | Next round of China trade talks set | Forecasts raise doubt on Trump’s economic goals Gary Cohn joked about sending Trump to help Brexit talks: report 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 BradyLawmakers beat lobbyists at charity hockey game Democrats step up work to get Trump tax returns Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall 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.”