Washington is filled with important and powerful people. Some of them are household names that need no introduction; others may be a little less well-known; and still others may prompt you to ask, ‘Who?’. We have compiled a list of people with whom you should familiarize yourself because you will probably hear about or see them when you come to Washington. You will undoubtedly recognize some names, but others may be new.
1) Ben Bernanke – Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
As Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke is the point man for raising or lowering interest rates, the effects of which ripple through the U.S. and global economy. During the financial crisis, he was in the middle of every key decision.
2) Jon Favreau – Assistant to the President; Director of Speechwriting
You don’t have to be old to be powerful. Presidential speechwriter Jon Favreau is only 29 years old. Responsible for many of Obama’s campaign speeches, Favreau transitioned to the White House as the second youngest chief speechwriter on record. He wrote Obama’s Inaugural Address.
3) Rahm Emanuel – White House Chief of Staff
As a former Clinton Administration official and Member of Congress, Rahm Emanuel has a reputation of playing hardball. As President Obama works through his legislative agenda, Emanuel will be a key player in getting things done.
4) Robert Byrd – U.S. Senator (D-WV)
A Member of the Senate since 1959, Robert Byrd is the longest serving Senator in U.S. History. And although he has been ailing for the past few years, he still remains influential in the Senate. As President pro Tempore of the Senate, he is fourth in line for the Presidency. He frequently defends the rights of the Legislative Branch against encroachment by the Executive Branch, and often quotes the U.S. Constitution in his Floor Speeches. Byrd has been instrumental in steering federal money to his home state of West Virginia.
5) Eric Cantor – U.S. Representative (R-VA); House Minority Whip
As House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor is responsible for keeping the Republican Members of Congress unified in opposition to Democrat priorities. Some say that Cantor is a rising star in the Republican party, and could play an even more powerful role after the November elections.
6) Tom Coburn – U.S. Senator (R-OK)
Senator Tom Coburn came to Washington with almost a single purpose: stop wasteful spending. In his quest to do so, he has picked-up the nickname Dr. No. (The Senator is also an MD.) He is famous for filing amendments to halt or change bills he believes are wasteful and spend too much. Lest you think he is a stubborn partisan, he did team up with then-Senator Barack Obama on bill to create a database of entities that receive federal funds.
7) Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe – U.S. Senators (R-ME)
Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are Republican Senators from Maine. On the left of their party, these Senators are frequently mentioned as Senators willing to cross party lines on legislation. However, while they are willing to buck their party from time to time, their bi-partisanship cannot always be guaranteed. Both Senators voted against health care reform along with the rest of their party.
8) Barney Frank – U.S. Representative (D-MA); House Financial Services Committee Chairman
Congressman Barney Frank has been a Member of Congress since 1981. As the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank is responsible for moving financial reform legislation through the House. Frank is known for his quick wit and snarky commentary.
9) Ben Nelson – U.S. Senator (D-NE)
U.S. Senator Ben Nelson could be considered the opposite number of the Maine Senators. In their opposition to the Democrats’ agenda in the Senate, Republicans target Nelson as their best shot to stop legislation. Just as with Senators Snowe and Collins, Nelson isn’t always the spoiler. In fact, it was Nelson’s famous (or infamous) support for health care reform that allowed the Senate to pass its bill.
10) Nancy Pelosi – U.S. Representative (D-CA); Speaker of the House
As Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi is third in line for the Presidency. More than that, Pelosi controls the legislative agenda in the House of Representatives. No bill will come to a vote without her approval. Pelosi runs a tight ship and is known for her shrewd political maneuvering.
11) Henry Waxman – U.S. Representative (D-CA); House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman
If President Obama plans to get any kind of cap-and-trade legislation through Congress, he will need the help of Congressman Henry Waxman, the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the main committee of jurisdiction for this issue. In 2009, Waxman shocked Capitol Hill when he won the gavel of the Committee from the previous chairman, Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), a Member of Congress since 1955.
1) The Supreme Court of the United States
The Nine Justices of the Supreme Court are: John Roberts (Chief Justice), John Paul Stevens, Anton Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor. With the announcement of the retirement of Justice Stevens, Washington is chattering away about President Obama’s nominee for the Court, Elena Kagan. Now that Kagan, the current Solicitor General of the United States, has been nominated, her record, what kind of Justice she would be, and the tenor of her confirmation hearings have moved to the forefront of discussion and gossip. The Senate will certainly want to conduct and finish its hearings this summer as a new Justice will need to be in place for the Court’s next session beginning in October.
2) Ben’s Chili Bowl – Washington institution
While not a person you should know, it is a place you should know. Located on U Street, NW, this restaurant is famous for remaining open and welcoming in good times and bad. Scenes from the movie The Pelican Brief were filmed there, and famous people including Chris Tucker, Bono, Bill Cosby, and President Obama have been known to drop in. Drop-in to try a half-smoke, a local sausage delicacy.
3) Newt Gingrich – former Speaker of the House
Although Newt Gingrich has been a former Speaker for over 10 years, he still remains influential in Washington. Through his books and think tank work, he remains a go-to person for Republicans. There is speculation that he may run for the Presidency in 2012.
4) Michelle Rhee – Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools
The schools of the District of Columbia have a reputation for low achievement. In 2007, Michelle Rhee was given the daunting task of reforming and improving DC public schools. Although not without controversy, she has definitely shaken-up the school system and implemented far-reaching changes.
5) Tea Party – Political Movement
Again, not a person. And although the Tea Party movement is largely an outside of Washington development, its message is reverberating inside of Washington. Whether or not one agrees with their politics, the Tea Party seems to have tapped into feelings that heretofore lay beneath the surface. As the country approaches the November elections, watch how politicians on both sides of the partisan divide react to what the Tea Party is saying.