Pete Jeffries, a longtime aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), is leaving to take a job at the public-relations firm Hill & Knowlton.
Jeffries, Hastert’s communications director, is the fourth House GOP leadership communications staffer to depart in recent months. Former Hastert spokesman John Feehery started work this week at the Motion Picture Association of America, where he has helped the association establish a Republican presence and is drawing a salary of more than $300,000.
Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) two press aides, Communications Director Stuart Roy and Press Secretary Jonathan Grella, also recently left the Hill.
Some observers predicted that the departures of Feehery and Jeffries could signal Hastert’s intention to retire at the end of his term. Only a handful of Hastert’s core longtime advisers remain in place — including Chief of Staff Scott Palmer, Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Stokke and Speaker Operations Director Sam Lancaster.
Jeffries will serve as chief lobbyist and become a prominent Republican face for the firm, where he also will work on developing Hill & Knowlton’s PAC. “They’re going to allow me to do political-pundit work on TV and radio” as well, Jeffries, a former radio and TV reporter, said in a phone interview.
Hill & Knowlton handles a range of government relations, public affairs, healthcare and crisis communications issues for corporate clients including Hewlett-Packard, MCI and Motorola. The firm has 72 offices in 38 countries, including 17 offices in the United States. The company lost one prominent Republican when Torie Clarke left to become Pentagon spokeswoman in 2001.
“I definitely think it’s an advantage to add a high-level Republican official from Capitol Hill to our roster,” said Gene Reineke, general manager of Hill & Knowlton’s Washington office.
Jeffries said he decided to leave after 14 years on the Hill and eight working for Hastert to better provide for his 4 1/2-year-old son, Mason, who is entering kindergarten. “Before you know it, he’s going to be going to college,” Jeffries said.
He said that his departure had nothing to do with Feehery’s decision to leave and that it was set in motion long before Feehery’s announcement. Jeffries was Hastert’s communications director when Hastert served as chief deputy whip, although Feehery interacted most directly with the press when Hastert became Speaker.
“The Speaker has been a wonderful, wonderful individual, not just to work for but to work with,” Jeffries said. Asked whether his salary at Hill & Knowlton would put him in league with Feehery, Jeffries replied, “Let’s not go down that path.”
In recent years, it has become routine for leadership aides to rely on Capitol Hill connections in lucrative corporate positions. “The firm is up-front in their approach that they want to build a stronger reputation in D.C.,” said Jeffries. “It always helps to have senior congressional staff that are connected to the Republican leadership as well as the White House.”
Reineke, who spent 18 years working for GOP governors in Illinois, said he has seen no hint of the GOP’s K Street Project, a leadership-driven effort to encourage lobbying firms and associations to hire Republicans. “Nobody leaned on us to hire Pete,” he said. “We want to have Pete because he’s a great resource.”
Hastert’s office is expected to announce replacement press staff soon, with new hires from outside considered likely.