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Barry in the Middle

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
The deal to head off a government shutdown Friday night got done because a guy named Barry Jackson said it was done. Not one second before.

I have no - zero - inside info on what in the press world is known as a "tick-tock" who said what to whom, and when they said it. I am not one of Barry Jackson's pals. I'm not even sure who they might be.


But, I have known Barry Jackson for about 15 years and I know this: He has the ability to focus in on a problem not like a laser - that would be too diffused; but like the beam of sub-atomic matter zooming around a particle accelerator.

A quick Barry Jackson story:

It was Barack Obama's inauguration day, January 20, 2009. At precisely noon, Eastern Standard Time, George W. Bush would gain the two letters "ex" in front of his title; and Obama would lose the word "elect" from behind his.

The Mullings Director of Standards & Practices and I had wound our way, along with maybe 500 others, to Andrews Air Force Base to say goodbye and thank you to President Bush.

As people made their way through the large hanger, in front of which Air Force One was parked, awaiting the President, Barry showed up - dark suit, white shirt, tie still knotted at the neck.

I asked him why he was still in uniform.

He said: "It's not noon yet. I'm still on duty."

At noon, as we watched President Obama take the oath of office people gathered around Barry to shake his hand and thank him for being in the eye of the storm for nearly the entirety of the Bush 43 Administration.

He was off duty, but not for long.

I don't know what Barry had in mind after he left the White House. A mutual friend said he had set off on a long trip - sailing, maybe.

On January 10, 2010 Minority Leader John Boehner's brilliant chief of staff, Paula Nowakowski, died of a heart attack at the age of 46 years. Paula was a national treasure in her own right, but Boehner was staring down the barrel of the 2010 elections without a senior, trusted aide to be the Republican border collie, herding the Members and the candidates into a cohesive unit.


No one goes from being a senior member of a President's staff to a senior member of the minority leader's staff. Senior White House staffers walk out of the West Wing and hop into limos and private jets to Wall Street or Silicon Valley to trade on the names and private phone numbers their Rolodex.

Boehner called Jackson. Jackson answered the call - literally and figuratively - and became Boehner's CoS.

He had that role before. In the days of the Gingrich revolution, Boehner was the Chairman of the Republican Conference and Barry was the executive director of the Conference. He managed the meetings; made sure the talking points got distributed; arranged for the laminated pocket cards to be produced so that when GOP Members went home, they could refer to them just before walking into a town hall meeting.

If you don't think that's important, think back to the August recess of 2009 when Nancy Pelosi sent her troops home to talk about health care legislation with nothing - no bill, no talking points, no laminated pocket cards.

That level of unpreparedness lit the fire of the Tea Party movement and provided the momentum which led to the GOP victories in 2010.

The media and liberal pundits proclaimed Boehner a captive of those Tea Party freshmen. Boehner is not a flag waving cheerleader. He understands the institution of the Congress and the House in particular. He has been in the leadership and has been back bencher both in the minority and the majority.


Boehner used that experience to understand what he could get in the budget negotiations and he relied on Barry Jackson to help him get it. That included keeping the Republican freshmen in line and out of the limelight, so he wouldn't be seen as having to negotiate with his own Members in public.

At shortly after ten o'clock on Friday night, with the media breathlessly standing by to report on the horrors of a Federal government shutdown, Harry Reid recognized he was playing a weak hand and acceded to what Boehner was willing to give him.

I wasn't on the Hill Friday night, but I'm absolutely certain that at some point before everyone went home for the night a bunch of people gathered around Barry Jackson, shook his hand, and thanked him for having stepped into the eye of the storm, yet again.

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