15 D.C. power couples

POLITICO:  Kenneth P. Vogel

There’s only one first couple, but Barack and Michelle Obama are hardly the only powerful pair in Washington.

The new administration is staffed by an especially large contingent of power couples.

Here are 15 of them:

Shere Abbott and James Steinberg

These connected Beltway insiders ironically spent most of former President George W. Bush’s second term in his home state of Texas, where Steinberg was dean of the public affairs school at the University of Texas and Abbott directed the university’s sustainability program.

But Steinberg, 56, who was a national security adviser in the Clinton administration, kept in the game, advising the Obama campaign and transition on foreign policy issues. In December, he was nominated to be the No. 2 official at the State Department.

Abbott, 53, was tapped in March to handle environmental and energy policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

They married in 1994 and have two young daughters they adopted from China.

Sarah Feinberg and Dan Pfeiffer

If communication is key to a successful marriage, this couple should be in great shape.

Feinberg, 31, is a senior adviser and spokeswoman for Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, while Pfeiffer, 33, is deputy White House communications director.

They first crossed paths — albeit only over the phone — in 2000 while working in the communications shop of then-Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign. They were in different cities, but they talked about 10 times a day for four months, finally meeting in person after the campaign. They became an item in 2002 while working in South Dakota on Sen. Tim Johnson’s reelection campaign, then married in 2006.

Pfeiffer worked out of Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters while Feinberg came to the White House via Emanuel’s congressional office.

Bob Bauer and Anita Dunn

He’s on the outside, she’s on the inside, but both of these veteran Beltway Democrats are key players in Obamaland.

Bauer, 57, was Obama’s top campaign lawyer and occasional legal bulldog. Although he didn’t take an administration job, he represents the Obama family in personal matters, such as in the federal investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as well as President Obama’s outside political network and the Democratic National Committee.

Dunn, 51, a longtime admaker, was a senior adviser to the Obama campaign but initially avoided entering the administration. In April, she took over as White House communications director.
They live in Chevy Chase with their cats, Kinsey, an orange tabby, and Sticky, a white part-Siamese.

Jeremy Bernard and Rufus Gifford

After the election, Bernard and Gifford left their home in Los Angeles and joined thousands of Obama supporters descending on Washington hoping to score a job in Obamaland.

They had a leg up: Bernard and Gifford had raised tens of millions of dollars for the campaign as its top California finance consultants. They ended up working for the inaugural committee before landing high-powered gigs — Bernard, 44, as Obama’s liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Gifford, 34, as the DNC’s national finance director.

“We really didn’t know what to expect, so it was a little bit of an adventure,” said Gifford, who met Bernard at a meeting of gay activists working on Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. The pair shuttered their fundraising consulting firm to start anew in D.C.

“We’ve been riding this wave for two years. We can’t stop now,” Gifford recalled thinking after the election.

Antony Blinken and Evan Ryan

Vice President Joe Biden has a reputation for surrounding himself with longtime loyalists, but Blinken and Ryan have earned spots in his inner circle relatively quickly.

Blinken, 47, national security adviser to the vice president, joined Team Biden in 2002 as a top aide to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Biden was the top Democrat, and signed on to Biden’s presidential campaign in 2007.

Ryan, 38, is Biden’s assistant for intergovernmental affairs and public liaison. She worked for Biden’s political action committee in 2006 and was deputy campaign manager for his 2008 presidential bid.

They met at the White House in 1995, when she was working for then-first lady Hillary Clinton and he was a National Security Council staffer. They married in 2002.

Tom Donilon and Cathy Russell

The pre-eminent Biden power couple, Donilon, 54, and Russell, 48, were advisers to Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign, and Donilon has been a longtime counselor on foreign policy and judicial issues, helping scuttle Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987.

Both returned for Biden’s 2008 presidential run, with Russell, who worked in the Clinton Justice Department and for a pair of Senate committees on which Biden served, volunteering as chief of staff for Biden’s wife, Jill. Russell now holds the same post for now-second lady Jill Biden.

Donilon, chief of staff in former President Bill Clinton’s State Department, left a lucrative partnership at O’Melveny & Myers to become deputy national security adviser to Obama.

Donilon’s younger brother, Mike Donilon, also is a counselor to Biden.

Lael Brainard and Kurt Campbell

These two wonks, who met in Cambridge, Mass., where she was a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he at Harvard, rose in prominence after leaving jobs in the Clinton administration.
She became a senior fellow at Brookings while he co-founded the influential Center for a New American Security think tank. They each published a handful of books and together started a pair of consulting firms that reaped more than $1 million, partly by representing big-time defense contractors.

In March, Brainard, 47, was tapped to be undersecretary of treasury for international affairs, while Campbell, 51, was nominated in April as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

The couple married in 1998 at a Civil War-era farmhouse they own in Rappahannock County, Va. They have three young daughters. Just before the election, they bought a 100-year-old, six-bedroom house in upper Northwest Washington.

Jen O’Malley Dillon and Patrick Dillon

These young-but-seasoned political operatives have Obama’s inside-outside game down pat.

At 32, she’s the president’s hand-picked executive director of the DNC. At 31, he’s the White House deputy director of political affairs.

They met in 2003 as staffers for then-Sen. John Edwards’ presidential bid and went on to work on former Sen. Tom Daschle’s unsuccessful 2004 reelection bid.

The couple married in July 2007 while she was running Edwards’ Iowa campaign and he was chief of staff for Iowa Gov. Chet Culver.

Michele Flournoy and W. Scott Gould

Call them Obamaland’s first couple of defense.

Her job as undersecretary of defense for policy makes her the Pentagon’s third-highest-ranking civilian, while his gig as deputy veterans affairs secretary makes him the No. 2 at the VA.

Flournoy, 48, co-founded an influential left-leaning national security think tank with Campbell. Since joining the Pentagon, she has run point defending Obama’s plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gould, 51, is a retired captain in the Navy Reserves who, until joining the administration, was a vice president for public sector strategy at IBM.

The pair both worked in the Clinton administration and afterward started a consulting firm, which last year took in at least $60,000 from clients including defense contractors Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems, according to her financial disclosure form.

The couple lives with their three children in Bethesda.

Katie McCormick Lelyveld and Tommy Vietor

Between them, this rising young power couple has Washington’s top power couple covered.

McCormick Lelyveld, 30, is first lady Michelle Obama’s press secretary. Vietor, 28, is an assistant press secretary for the president, for whom he also worked in the Senate.

She worked for Kerry in 2004; he worked for Edwards. But both signed on early with Obama, logging considerable time in Iowa before settling into Obama headquarters in Chicago, where she was raised.

The pair, who share an apartment in Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, got engaged this month when he flew to Paris, where she was staffing the first lady, and surprised her at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.

Chris Lu and Katie Thomson

Lu and Thomson met in the early 1990s as young lawyers at Sidley Austin.

Lu, 43, left for the Hill in 1997, working in the House before eventually landing in the just-opened office of a freshman senator named Obama. Lu stuck with Obama, eventually running the Senate office and becoming the executive director of the presidential transition team before moving into the White House as Obama’s liaison to the Cabinet and federal agencies.

Thomson, 44, stayed at Sidley, becoming a partner in 1998 and developing an expertise in environmental litigation.

Though she says her husband “is much more political than I am,” she raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama’s campaign and left the firm to help lead the Department of Transportation’s efforts to address climate change.

Avid runners, they’ve completed a combined 30 marathons.

Lt. Gen. Douglas and Jane Lute

The Lutes didn’t have any obvious connections to Obama before his election. But they have serious Army cred and could have a major hand in shaping the Obama administration’s defense and homeland security policies.

Jane Lute, 52, is deputy secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. She was a career Army officer who served on Norman Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War before retiring in 1994 and accepting an appointment as United Nations assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations.

Douglas Lute, 56, is in charge of coordinating Iraq and Afghanistan policy for the National Security Council. He was nominated to the “war czar” job by Bush in 2007. Obama decided to keep him on.

The Lutes, who met in the late 1990s when he was writing a paper for a conflict-prevention nonprofit she headed, live with their young daughter in Northern Virginia and have two children from previous marriages.

Pete Selfridge and Parita Shah

Selfridge, 38, and Shah, 31, owe their relationship partly to advance — the often-thankless, behind-the-scenes work that goes into pulling off complicated political events.

They met during the 2000 election, when they teamed up to plan a rally in Albuquerque, N.M., for Gore’s presidential campaign. They didn’t start dating until the next presidential cycle, when they were planning events for Kerry.

“Our dating anniversary is the New Hampshire primary of 2004,” said Shah, a Los Angeles native who worked for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after Kerry’s defeat.

Selfridge worked for the Clinton Foundation in Los Angeles, where they wed in 2007, before he landed a gig doing advance for Biden.

He’s now Biden’s advance director, while Shah, who took a three-month leave from Villaraigosa’s office to work on Obama’s campaign, is Commerce Secretary Gary Locke’s press secretary.

Mona Sutphen and Clyde Williams

These former Clinton administration veterans split their loyalties in the primary, when Sutphen worked for Obama and Williams advised Hillary Clinton’s rival campaign for the Democratic nomination.

But three months after Sutphen, 41, was announced as White House deputy chief of staff for policy, Williams, 47, signed on as the DNC’s new political director.

The two met in the White House Situation Room in the late 1990s, when Sutphen was working for then-National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Williams was working for President Clinton, whom he followed to Harlem post-presidency to work for the Clinton Foundation.

The two married in 2001 and have two young children.

Melanne and Philip Verveer

She is an original member of Hillaryland, having served as the first lady’s chief of staff, and both have been nominated to ambassadorships in Secretary Clinton’s State Department.

Melanne Verveer, 64, worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign and is ambassador at large for global women’s issues, a new post.

Philip Verveer, 65, a regulatory lawyer for Jenner & Block, was nominated last month to be deputy assistant secretary of state for international communications and information policy — a mouthful of a position that carries the rank of ambassador.

The Verveers met in a Georgetown University theology seminar in the fall of 1963 and have been married for more than 40 years. They have three grown children, including a son who is a city alderman in Madison, Wis.

“We are in a historical moment,” said Philip Verveer. “And to be allowed to participate in that is just a terrific thing.”

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