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When President George W. Bush addressed the nation Aug. 9 to announce his decision allowing limited federal funding for stem cell research, only a small circle of advisers knew in advance what that decision would be. Among them: Jay Lefkowitz, general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget. According to presidential counselor Karen Hughes, Lefkowitz coordinated the administration’s deliberations on the stem cell issue and was present at every major meeting where the issue was discussed. Lefkowitz’s prominent role in such a critical decision points to the powerful position of the OMB — and the OMB’s top lawyer — in the new administration. For the past 10 years, the general counsel’s office was led by Robert Damus, a career lawyer who died last November. Lefkowitz, an ideological conservative, is likely to take the seven-lawyer office in a more political direction. As OMB’s chief counsel, the 38-year-old Lefkowitz — who did not require Senate confirmation — is in a position to vet practically every major policy initiative, from the presidential budget to executive orders to agency regulations. “OMB has every interesting issue coming through it, and the general counsel has lots of opportunity to influence issues,” says Sidley & Austin D.C. partner Alan Charles Raul, OMB general counsel in the late 1980s. “[Lefkowitz] seems to be particularly involved on policy issues,” Raul adds. “He would never have been brought in to the stem cell issue if the president did not have supreme confidence in his judgment, legal knowledge, and philosophical grounding.” The eldest of four children, Lefkowitz grew up in Albany, N.Y., and attended college and law school at Columbia University. After graduating with his law degree in 1984, Lefkowitz spent three years as an associate at New York’s Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. In 1991, Lefkowitz left the firm to work on the elder George Bush’s presidential campaign. Lefkowitz’s parents were Republicans, an association he calls “unusual” in the New York Jewish community. But Lefkowitz, who observes the Jewish Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening and serves on the board of directors of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, says he no longer sees his party affiliation as out of the ordinary. “There’s a growing number of American Jews who recognize that it is important for the community to be represented throughout the political spectrum and that the Republican Party has a great deal to offer,” he says. In early 1991, Lefkowitz landed a job as domestic policy aide in the Bush White House and was later named director of Cabinet affairs. “It was a very exciting time for me because I was an observer to such a wide variety of significant issues,” Lefkowitz says. “I was shy of 30, and I had a strong sense of making a contribution to the development of public policy.” After Bush was defeated in the 1992 election, Lefkowitz spent nine months as a consultant to the right-wing Bradley Foundation, working with Weekly Standard editor and publisher William Kristol to develop a conservative agenda for the post-Cold War political landscape. In 1993, Lefkowitz joined the D.C. office of Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis as a senior associate. Two years later, he was named partner. While at Kirkland, Lefkowitz represented corporate clients including the General Motors Corp., the Qwest Communications Corp., and the News Corp. But he also found time for conservative causes. In 1994, Lefkowitz and Kirkland partner Kenneth Starr were brought in to represent Wisconsin in litigation over the state’s school voucher program. Soon after, Starr left to serve as independent counsel to the Whitewater investigation, and Lefkowitz took over as lead counsel, successfully defending the state’s fledgling voucher program at the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Also in the mid-1990s, Lefkowitz and commentator Laura Ingraham launched an irreverent Republican retreat, attended over the years by such GOP bigwigs as Newt Gingrich, Robert Bork, Rudolph Giuliani, and Arianna Huffington. Lefkowitz and Ingraham dubbed their soiree the Dark Ages Weekend, the right wing’s mocking answer to the liberal Renaissance Weekend, attended by the Clintons. Lefkowitz is no longer involved in the annual retreat. Over the course of his legal and political career, Lefkowitz has written for such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Commentary, a Jewish opinion magazine. He lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his wife, a documentary filmmaker, and their three children, ages 8, 5, and 3.

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