Like a pyramid, the power structure in Washington D.C. is quite narrow at the apex but quickly expands while descending from one level to the next. The rungs immediately below the president include names familiar to most people. Drop down a tier or two further, though, and the circle of staffers, lobbyists, insiders, and advisors starts to get truly daunting in size.
Only the most hardcore political junkies will recognize names picked from these ranks. However, there is one name that should be on your radar if it is not already: Jonathan Burks.
Who is Mr. Burks? As of December 2016, he is the Chief of Staff for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Why is he worth watching? Because Mr. Burks will likely play an outsized role on the political stage over the next few years. He is also one of the most promising rising stars in the Republican Party.
Before his latest promotion, Burks held a variety of increasingly influential advisor roles. His palette of policy expertise is vast. Over the course of his career, he has worked for the George W. Bush administration, the Department of the Treasury, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the House Budget Committee. He also holds a Masters degree in International Affairs and Economics from Johns Hopkins University.
In 2012, he worked for the Romney campaign as a Deputy Policy Director. It was during this time that he earned his reputation for being a calm, yet decisive and reasoned, professional. The Policy Director for the campaign and Burks’ former supervisor, Lanhee Chen, had high praise for Burks in an interview with Bloomberg Politics:
“Burks was a calming presence on the campaign, helping defuse tense situations and keeping the team focused on the big picture,” Chen said. After Romney was widely criticized for his overeager response to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, it was Burks who would “talk me off the ledge,” Chen said of his worst moments on the campaign.
“The word I would use is ‘unflappable’,” Chen said. “No circumstance will knock him off his game.”
After the campaign, Mr. Burks returned to work in Congress and strengthened his connection to Paul Ryan, working as Policy Director for the House Budget Committee. He then served as a policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and after that moved back to Speaker Ryan’s office as a National Security Advisor.
During President Trump’s transition into the White House, Burks operated as a liaison between the Speaker’s office and the White House. His prior networking paid off during this time, as he had a close preexisting relationship with Stephen Miller, one of President Trump’s senior policy advisors.
Despite Republican Party control of both Houses of Congress and the White House, the next two years are not going to be easy. The gap between Speaker Ryan’s plan for America known as “A Better Way” and the priorities of the Trump administration is wider than what one typically sees in instances of single party rule. Only careful negotiation and constant communication will move a joint agenda through Congress.
Of all the hundreds of staffers and advisors inside the beltway, Jonathan Burks is one of the few with the right temperament, knowledge, experience, and network needed to be successful during the inevitable struggles of the next couple years. His calm demeanor and bottomless well of expertise are precisely what the tumultuous climate on Capitol Hill needs.
Keep your eye on this guy and keep an ear out for his name — Jonathan Burks is going places.