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To label 2006 a bad year for Republicans would be an understatement. First out of the gate was disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to three felonies and was sentenced to prison later in the year. Then, the casualties began to mount. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) resigned from his seat. Other Abramoff friends, including Ohio Republican Bob Ney, caught the eye of federal prosecutors. Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) penchant for sexual instant messaging to young male House pages caught up to him. And, to cap off the drama, Republicans lost their majorities in the House and Senate in the November midterms. Yet many Republican veterans on Capitol Hill managed to dodge this year’s high-profile slings and arrows and headed for the private-sector wilderness. Here are three who spoke with Legal Times Joe Crea.
Brenda Becker, 47 To: Senior vice president of global government affairs for Boston Scientific Corp. From: Assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney for legislative affairs. She had been with the Bush administration for six years, beginning as assistant secretary for legislative and intergovernment affairs at the U.S. Commerce Department. Previously, Becker was with the Blue Cross & Blue Shield Association for 20 years.
LT: What has it been like to work with the vice president? Becker: I think it’s the best job in the world from a personal standpoint as well as the relationships I’ve made. I was in health care for 20 years. The vice president is probably one of the most well-grounded individuals that I’ve had the chance to work with or for. We are an extension of the White House legislative affairs team. We don’t have a separate agenda. We help figure out how to use the vice president to effect a positive outcome of the president’s agenda. Since he was a member of Congress, he’s so well regarded. I don’t want to say any job is easy, but he made it such a pleasure. LT: So the job hasn’t had its moments of difficulty? There are a lot of accounts that the White House doesn’t always work with Congress and that there’s sometimes a hostile relationship. Becker: Actually, the leadership of both the House and Senate have included us in all their meetings. I went to every elected leadership meeting on the Hill. They’ve been very good at working together; [it] doesn’t mean we always agree. The challenge is, when you don’t always agree, how do you come out with an outcome where everyone wins, including the American people? LT: How would you define your lobbying style? Becker: You’re only as good as your integrity and your word. Follow through and be responsive. [The] biggest challenge in lobbying is, how do you get a member of Congress to understand why it’s a good thing to do what you’re asking them to do? LT: Now you are leaving and going back to your health care roots? Becker: I didn’t intend to go back to health care. It was just one of those opportunities that came to me. I have a daughter that started high school, and I had to think about my family (and college tuition). I only have her for three more years! LT: What will you be focusing on at Boston Scientific? Becker: To put forth their agenda, which is noninvasive surgery, new procedures, and to, hopefully, promote their products in a way that will hopefully help save people’s lives. They are doing some really fascinating things. Having just been through the health care system with my husband [who had cancer] for a year, you do appreciate that hopefully you are not going to have to do [an invasive procedure,] that they can go in with a scope instead. LT: Is your husband better? Becker: Yes, he’s made it through it all. I mean, once you have cancer, you are always at risk, but right now he has a clean bill of health. We’re going to the Bahamas for Christmas to celebrate.
Mark Paoletta, 44 To: Dickstein Shapiro, as a partner; begins work Jan. 4. From: Chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
LT: Your committee has had a busy year. What’s your take on its 2006 agenda? Paoletta: We did a lot of great work. I was planning on leaving [earlier in the year,] as I have four kids, and one just started high school and the others are younger, and tuition is coming up. I wanted to go out strong. We did the child-pornography work and had worked on data-pretexting legislation even before the HP [Hewlett-Packard] stuff came up. We did a very thorough investigation of the issue and then, out of the blue, HP plops into our laps. We had, I think, 13 data pretexters take the fifth during that hearing. LT: How would you personally prepare for some of these high-profile cases? Paoletta: When you go into these hearings, you are in the hunt. You want to produce a good product. I would thoroughly verse myself in the issue. You need to be right. You can’t overstep. You have to prepare for as much as you can. I like to get documents and interview people. You want to understand it, and once you understand it, you want to drive it. HP was something where we moved really fast. We were able to analyze it in a pretty bipartisan, uniform way. LT: And now you’ll be helping to run Dickstein’s congressional investigations practice? Paoletta: Yes. It’s a new practice area for them. I’ll be advising clients about congressional investigations, how to deal with them, and why they are different than other types of investigations, and the things that they could do to help them be a part of the solution. LT: What could companies do better? Paoletta: If there’s some government program where there’s a lot of money going out the door and you are the recipient of it, and it’s being done in a way that looks too good to be true, you should think this might be something that comes to Congress’ attention.
Elliot Berke, 35 To: General counsel of Barbour Griffith & Rogers. From: Counsel in the Office of the Speaker of the House and former general counsel in the House Majority Leader’s Office (February 2004-February 2006).
LT: What was your experience like working with Tom DeLay? Berke: Intense. Professionally and personally, extremely rewarding. Obviously, one of the periods of the most heightened intensity on the Hill in recent years. As his general counsel, I was responsible not just for his office and ethics and compliance issues, but working with outside counsel on numerous investigations and allegations levied against him. LT: What’s the strategy one uses when navigating those channels? What kind of shape does the counsel take? Berke: You have to look at it from the perspective of what’s pending before the ethics committee and what arises out of things outside of the House. You have to be both counsel and liaison. You often have to work with personal counsel. LT: What is your take on 2006 and the losses Republicans have suffered? Berke: I think there were a series of things that happened that led to the ultimate election results that were obviously disappointing. But I think there’s been so much going on that the Democrats had worked hard to pose questions in a certain way, to disrupt our leadership structure as well as on a policy front, attacking the president and his agenda. On our side, we had an extremely productive Congress, especially in the first session, but we didn’t do the best job of communicating that message, and that’s what we need to get back to. LT: Was it tough working for Hastert during the page scandal? Berke: Well, it’s part of the job. You don’t know when these things come, but that’s the job I accept and they asked me to do. LT: How has the transition gone from doing general counsel work in the public sector to the private sector? Berke: Excellent. I think it’s like any place — it’s personality-driven. Knowing how to navigate the various issues is something that is applicable.

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