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Meet the woman leading Biden’s bipartisan Capitol Hill winning streak



Washington
CNN

The Biden administration has managed to rack up a long list of major legislative victories in its first two years despite having one of the most divided Congresses in history.
From bipartisan action on infrastructure, gun safety and same-sex marriage to partisan bills on tackling climate change and expanding health care coverage, this is a record. .

But far from the spotlight is a woman who helped make it all happen: Louisa Terrell.

As director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, Terrell, 53, leads a team that is the president’s collective eyes and ears in Congress.

“Make sure we respond, make sure we’re proactive, understand what’s going on here in this building,” Terrell told CNN, explaining her work as she stood in front of the Capitol, where she spends a lot. of time even though she works for the White House.

She describes her role as a conductor to advance Biden’s agenda in Congress.

“You want to talk to committees, caucuses. Who talks to leaders? Who are the newcomers? What is ground action? What spins fast? What is slowing down? And you need all those kinds of tentacles there and then bring them back every day.

But unlike a real conductor who is at the center of an orchestra, Terrell operates a lot behind the scenes.

In fact, when we sat down for our chat in the Executive Office Building of the White House, she said it was her first TV interview — ever.

Terrell’s years of experience in Washington were critical to his success. She started on the Hill over 20 years ago as a member of Sen’s staff. Biden to the Judiciary Committee. Looking back, she describes herself at the time as just a “Delaware girl,” impressed by the experienced lawyers and seasoned employees around her. She quickly found her footing and thrived, becoming Biden’s deputy chief of staff and later working in the Obama administration’s Office of Legal Affairs — the very team she leads now.

Even with her expansive resume, however, Terrell readily admits that the Washington of today is harder to navigate than the one she arrived in two decades ago.

“Extremes have become extreme and I think that makes it harder,” she said. “You really have to work a lot harder to find where you can meet in the middle.”

Being able to call on the personal relationships she forged over the years on Capitol Hill has proven essential in working across the aisle to find that common ground, especially given the wafer-thin majorities. Democrats.

“I will be very clear about where the president stands and why we want to see what we want to see done,” she said of her conversations with Republican lawmakers. “Republicans know that when this White House — and whether it’s us on our team or a senior official — gives the floor, then we keep our word. And I think that kind of credibility on the Hill was very important in getting things moving.

Deep relationships matter too, she says.

“You get the fuel from the other people you work with. And I get an incredible amount of fuel from the senior team here at the White House and only people who have years and years of experience and relationships in these areas.

It’s the kind of work that can make or break a president, and while it’s largely unrecognized, that doesn’t mean it goes unnoticed. Following her Supreme Court confirmation as the first black justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson included Terrell in her cries as one of the “brilliant people” who helped make this historic achievement possible.

Terrell’s longest relationship in the White House is with the president himself. Although their professional relationship began when she arrived in Washington two decades ago, she first met Biden when she was just 5 years old.

“I met Beau Biden in kindergarten,” Wilmington native Terrell recalled with a smile. “It was (was) a really quick bike ride from my house to where Beau grew up. So we were childhood friends (and) remained friends for…all of our adult lives.

She recalls visiting the Biden household as a child, sharing a running joke from her childhood with CNN.

“When we were going to Beau’s, there was a fax machine in the living room and all there was to know (was), don’t screw up the fax machine,” she laughs. “And again, it’s Delaware and it was probably Delaware’s first fax machine, it’s high tech equipment.”

Louisa Terrell (bottom left) and Beau Biden (top left) in Wilmington, Delaware in the 1980s.

Terrell’s longstanding relationship with the Biden family means she brings a unique perspective to her work in the White House.

“He knows my parents and is just connected that way,” she said. “You know where the person is from and I think that helps.”

“It brings a warmth to the job and I feel very, very lucky about that,” she added.

Terrell said her friend Beau, who died of a brain tumor in 2015, was always on her mind.

“You want to represent what…the president wants you to do,” she said. “And then there’s always that other question, what would Beau do?” And I think those things are sort of intertwined and part of the background engine of how we do work.

Two years into her work on the Judiciary Committee, Terrell became pregnant. She says Biden’s office has maintained a family-oriented culture. But as she continued her career in Washington, her children aged a bit and the balance became more complicated.

“I had the job in the Obama administration when my kids were, say, about 6 and 8 — or 4 and 6. It’s all kind of a blur,” she joked.

She describes her time after work as “bed, bath and beyond”, a full “second shift” after a full day at the office. It’s something she’s very aware of now, as a senior woman in administration.

“I look through the White House, at women whose kids are that age, and you really have to (remember) how long their days and nights are,” Terrell said. “And then think about the kind of performance and the kind of 100% they give in the office every day. I have so much gratitude and admiration.

Women having a seat at the table isn’t just a phrase in Terrell’s office. When CNN stopped by one of its West Wing staff meetings, the room was filled with young, mostly female staff. Terrell says it was a conscious decision, not because of their gender, but because they were the best for the job.

“(The expectation) is to be ready to contribute. And that’s kind of what I mean – be prepared and ready to play,” she said of the more junior staff. don’t be afraid to do that.”

But when asked what advice she would give to young women starting out in government today, Terrell didn’t hesitate.

“I think women today are much braver than me,” she said. ” It is really impressive. So, I think they don’t need my advice, actually, so, yeah, they don’t need me. I’m just happy to have a drink and a coffee with them when they take me out,” she laughed.

Terrell and his team are deep in negotiations for the final weeks of a Democratic House majority, which means competing priorities for the rest of the lame duck session — the most important of which is the basic function of Congress consisting of to fund the government.

As some Democrats tried to pass legislation to regulate social media companies, Terrell’s move to Facebook has raised questions among some advocacy groups, though Terrell maintains that his stint at the tech giant a while ago 10 years does not conflict with the President’s legislative agenda.

“I think the president kind of came into office and campaigned on this about being very pro-competitive, pro-accountability and pro-transparency in social media platforms, which obviously this they are today is not what they were 10 years ago. So we’ve worked very hard, I think, to promote those executive actions, the regulatory actions, the people we’ve brought into the administration to work on those, and have worked hard on pieces of legislation, and hopefully continue to do it next year.

And although the Democratic majority in the Senate will widen slightly in January, Terrell’s office is on the front lines of preparing Republicans to take control of the House and launch a flurry of congressional investigations into those responsible for Biden.

“There’s obviously going to be a big chunk of ‘It’s an oversight’ – you heard it – ‘We’re watching,’ and that’s totally normal,” Terrell says. “I think from the point of view of the president and the team here, you can’t let that kind of overwhelm the boat.”

“I think the president has said he’s ready to work with anyone who wants to work with him, hopes the Republicans will, and they’ll do the people’s job and not descend into the proverbial burrows of the surveillance.”

She insists that her team’s relationships not only with Democrats, but also with Republicans across the aisle will pay off.

“The kind of relationship you have with Republicans, we work on that all the time,” she said. “There are people in our store, and again, people here at the White House, who have some of those connections. And so, we will not have the impression of being in a parachute. It will just look like a chapter two.

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