Andy Shoyer recently sat down with Geoff Antell, Assistant to Speaker Paul Ryan for Policy & Counsel in the United States House of Representatives, to discuss life on Capitol Hill and the importance of a good mentor.
Andy: Can you describe your role in the Speaker’s Office and how you came to work there?
Geoff: I went to school in D.C. at George Washington University and had great opportunities to intern around town, including on the Hill. After law school I worked for a few years at Sidley, when one of the staff directors on the Hill of the Ways and Means Committee asked Dan Price for candidates for an open position. He was kind enough to put me up for the opportunity. I jumped at it because these jobs are incredible opportunities to learn and to serve.
I advise the Speaker primarily on financial services, transportation, infrastructure, agriculture, and regulatory reform. The Speaker is a big believer in what we call “regular order”: we want the committee members and the committee Chairman drafting bills, working on policy ideas and developing the legislation; then we help it move through the process.
Andy: What surprised you the most about your role or the role of the office of the Speaker?
Geoff: If you read press reports and you listen to the news – and frankly, if you just watch some of our hearings – there’s a lot of fighting and arguing. But that really is the process as it was designed to work, right? It is meant to be a little bit of a full-contact exercise and I think the product that comes out of it is better for it. I’m also surprised by how much bipartisan legislation gets done. It flies under the radar. We have major re-authorizations and re-writes of programs that move through the House all the time with 400-plus votes.
Andy: Thinking back to when you made the transition from private practice, how did that prepare you for the work that you’ve been doing on the Hill?
Geoff: Sidley was where I received the training and developed the rigorous skills that have served me throughout my career. I was able to come here and craft memos, work on legislative text and dissect the meaning of particular words. Sidley has a great mentorship structure that really helped me develop the skills of being a lawyer, whether those skills are ultimately applied in a more traditional role or in crafting legislation that eventually other lawyers will fight over.
Andy: You mentioned mentoring and I think Dan Price has played that role for both of us at different times in our careers. To the extent that you identify a mentor, how has that person shaped you so that you are able to work at the highest levels of public life?
Geoff: I was really fortunate to be able to work with an incredible team of people. I worked with you and Jim Mendenhall on WTO issues. I worked with Neil Ellis on anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases where we had filings every week and I learned how to manage a process and get a project completed. Those skills were essential up here. I worked with Dan learning more in-the-weeds litigation strategy: how to fight it out and develop a factual record, which served me well in a lot of policy debates. Whether at Sidley or on the Hill, it’s very gratifying to work with people who are the very best at what they do, and also are willing to take the time to help teach you a little bit of what they know.
Andy: What are the most important insights that you have about working on the Hill, so that someone could hit the ground running there, or maybe decide it’s not the place for them?
Geoff: It’s a lot of issue spotting, problem resolution and technical drafting skills – very similar to skills that you work on and develop in a firm. At Sidley, I could write a more detailed, footnoted memo for clients, and that’s what they wanted because the audience was other lawyers working in a technical capacity. On the Hill, you have to do the same level of rigor and analysis, but produce a product that is more concise and accessible to a general audience.
When we’re in session, I’ll often have very late nights and honestly, later nights than I had even at Sidley. The most heartening part of working here is that I come to work every day with good friends on both sides of the aisle, who are here because they care and they want to make a difference.
Andy: Lastly, the typical magazine interview question: What books are on your nightstand right now? I imagine that you’ve got the appropriations bill and the tax bill there, since you work for the Speaker. On top of that, what are you reading for fun?
Geoff: Tax treaties, all the time. I’m from Chicago, so I thoroughly enjoyed Rich Cohen’s The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse. Easier to read post-championship for sure. I have a copy of Annie Proulx’s Barkskins that I finished and need to gift on. And I have been working my way through Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, which has an interesting state and local angle to politics that I’ve enjoyed quite a bit.
Published June 2018 – UPDATE Chief of Staff at the U.S. Senate
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