Protests, Partisanship & Fixing Politics: IOP Fellows Unplugged

Lois Romano
Thursday, September 7, 2017 - 6:00pm

A panel featuring IOP Fall 2017 Fellows
Yohannes Abraham
Former Senior Advisor to the National Economic Council and Deputy Assistant, Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, White House
Dan Balz
Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post
Jason Chaffetz
U.S. Congressman (R-UT) (2009-2017)
Former Chair, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Contributor, Fox News Network
Karen Finney
Senior Advisor and Spokesperson, Hillary Clinton 2016 Presidential Campaign
Sally Jewell
United States Secretary of the Interior (2013 to 2017)
CEO, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) (200-2013)
Mark Strand
President, Congressional Institute
Lois Romano (moderator)
Strategic Advisor, Institute of Politics
Former Washington Post Political Reporter and Editor

The Institute of Politics officially welcomed six new fellows this semester with a panel discussion on their respective political experiences. The six fellows include Yohannes Abraham, Former Senior Advisor to the National Economic Council and Deputy Assistant, Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, White House, Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post, Jason Chaffetz, U.S. Congressman (R-UT) (2009-2017), Karen Finney, Senior Advisor and Spokesperson, Hillary Clinton 2016 Presidential Campaign, Sally Jewell, United States Secretary of the Interior (2013 to 2017) and CEO, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) (200-2013), and Mark Strand, President, Congressional Institute. The panelists discussed, among other topics, the 2016 Presidential Election, DACA, and remedies to "fix" politics. 


Panelist Biographies

Yohannes Abraham serves as Senior Advisor at the Obama Foundation. Prior to joining the Obama Foundation, Abraham served in the White House as Senior Advisor to the National Economic Council. He also served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. In his role as Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett’s top aide, he oversaw the team tasked with engaging state and local governments, the private sector, organized labor, civil rights organizations, and advocacy groups across the spectrum to inform and promote President Obama’s policy priorities. These roles placed him in the middle of many of the second term’s highest profile confirmation, legislative, and communications battles.  

Abraham first began working for then-Senator Obama during his Iowa Caucus campaign in 2007. He went on to serve as Senator Obama’s Virginia Field Director in the 2008 general election, helping turn Virginia blue for the first time in 44 years. During President Obama’s first term, Abraham served in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs during the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and other key pieces of the President’s agenda. He went on to serve as the National Political Director at Organizing for America during the 2010 midterms. Abraham was one of the first staffers hired onto President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, ultimately serving as Deputy National Political Director and on the Executive Management Team. Abraham is a graduate of Yale College and a native of Springfield, Virginia. He resides in Alexandria, Virginia and sits on the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Community College System. 

Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He joined the Post in 1978.  As a reporter or editor, he has covered every presidential campaign and midterm election since 1978. In all, he has covered 21 national political conventions, beginning with the tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

He is author of four books, including two New York Times bestsellers: Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America and, with co-author Haynes Johnson, The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election.

His awards include the Robin Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, the White House Correspondents Association’s Merriman Smith award for deadline writing, the Gerald R. Ford Award for coverage of the presidency (shared), and the American Political Science Association’s Carey McWilliams Award. He is a regular panelist on PBS’s “Washington Week” and is a frequent guest on the Sunday morning talk shows and other public affairs programs.

Jason Chaffetz was elected to Congress in 2008 and selected by his peers to be a Chairman in the House of Representatives—only the fifth time in 100 years a three-term Representative ascended to such a position. 

As Chairman of the powerful Oversight & Government Reform Committee, he lead investigations into the United States Secret Service, the Department of Education I.T. vulnerabilities, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Benghazi terrorist attack, misuse of classified information by Hillary Clinton, Fast & Furious, and the IRS scandal. Congressman Chaffetz left Congress in June 2017.

Previous to Congress he was Chief of Staff to the Governor of Utah. A former placekicker on the Brigham Young University Football Team, he earned his B.A. in Communications in 1989 and then joined the local business community for 16 years before entering the public sector. He and his wife Julie were married in 1991 and have three children, two of which are now married.

In addition to being a Fellow, Congressman Chaffetz is also a Contributor for Fox News Networks.

Karen Finney most recently served as Senior Advisor for Communications and Political Outreach and Senior Spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Additionally she was Communications Director for Senator Tim Kaine, the Vice Presidential nominee. From her experience working in media, national politics, political and communications strategy in both the public and private sectors, Finney brings a unique perspective to her work. Finney hosted her own television show on MSNBC, “Disrupt with Karen Finney”, where she also worked as a contributor and political analyst for five years. Her work also includes four presidential campaigns, service in the the Clinton White House, and Hillary Clinton’s first New York Senate race.  As an independent consultant Finney worked with political and corporate clients in the United States and globally on message development, crisis communications, branding, public affairs and strategy. Her international work included a joint project with the French American Foundation and the American Embassy working with minority political candidates in France following the election of Barack Obama.

The first and only African American spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, Finney helped lead the DNC’s communications and media strategy for Howard Dean’s “50 State Strategy,” re-branding the Democratic Party, the successful 2006 Congressional elections and DNC communications efforts during 2008 presidential campaign. 

Finney has also worked to improve public education. As Chief of Staff to the Chairman, CEO and President of Scholastic Inc., Karen led a number of corporate projects including branding campaigns, internet strategy and partnership development. As Director of Business Development and Strategy, she developed and oversaw the growth of Scholastic, Inc. into new market areas and cultivated strategic relationships with key organizations in the public and private sectors.  As the chief spokesperson and Communications Director for the New York City Board of Education, Karen also managed crisis communications in the aftermath of 9/11. Karen has served on the boards of the Women's Leadership Forum Network, NY; Teach for America, NY and the Women's Vote Center. Currently she serves on the boards of NARAL pro-choice America and the Civic Engagement Fund. Finney continues to appear regularly on television as a political analyst and has written columns for The Hill and US News and World Report.

Sally Jewell  As a business executive and public servant serving as U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Obama, Sally Jewell focused her career on supporting a robust economy coupled with long-term sustainability of our natural world and its diverse people. 

During her tenure as Interior Secretary, Jewell was recognized for taking the long-view, using a science-based, landscape-level, collaborative approach to natural resources management.  She and her capable team were deeply engaged in rebuilding a trusting, nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous communities in the U.S.  They championed the importance of science and sharing data to better understand our Earth’s systems; supported development of commercial-scale renewable energy on public lands and waters; encouraged investments for more sustainable use of water in the West; and worked with Congress, President Obama and his team on long-term conservation of our nation’s most vulnerable and irreplaceable natural, cultural and historic treasures. 

Throughout her career, Jewell has been committed to connecting people to nature, particularly youth.  At Interior, she and her team championed efforts to create a continuum of engagement that encouraged tens of millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work on public lands. 

Prior to serving on President Obama’s cabinet, Jewell was President and CEO of REI, a $2.6 billion retailer dedicated to facilitating outdoor adventures.  Prior to REI, she served 19 years in commercial banking across a wide-range of industries, and began her career as an engineer in the energy industry.  She has been active in many non-profit organizations throughout her life, including serving as a Regent of the University of Washington where she is currently a Distinguished Fellow in the College of the Environment.

Mark Strand became President of the Congressional Institute in 2007. Founded in 1987, the Congressional Institute is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to helping Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helping their constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature. 

Strand is also an adjunct professor of legislative affairs at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, and the coauthor of the book Surviving Inside Congress. He also writes a blog, The Sausage Factory, that provides an inside look at legislative strategies and procedures.

Strand spent nearly 24 years on Capitol Hill in both the House and the Senate, most recently serving as Chief of Staff to James Talent (R-MO). He served as the Staff Director of the House Committee on Small Business when Talent was Chairman. He was also chief of staff for Reps. Bill Lowery (R-CA) and Stan Parris (R-VA). He has also served as a Legislative Director and a Press Secretary. 

During a brief interlude from the Hill from 2001-2002, Strand was Vice-President of Government Affairs for the American Water Works Company – the largest publicly held water utility in the United States. 

Strand obtained a master’s in Legislative Affairs from GWU's Graduate School of Political Management, an M.B.A. in Marketing from the University of Phoenix, and was an undergraduate double major in Political Science and History at Excelsior College of the University of New York. 

Strand regularly speaks to organizations about how Congress works (or doesn't). Besides speaking and lecturing on legislative politics, Strand teaches courses on "Surviving Inside Congress" to new Hill staff, government affairs employees and Washington-based diplomats. In addition, he regularly works with Congressional offices on management issues.

Lois Romano is a Strategic Advisor to the Institute of Politics.  Before joining the IOP, Romano was a long-time political writer and editor for The Washington Post. She covered seven presidential campaigns, profiled national leaders, and reported on politics, policy and business. She also was a regional correspondent in the southwest, where she covered the Oklahoma City bombing and the fall of Enron.

Most recently, Romano was the Editor of Washington Post Live, a senior management position where she oversaw the outlet’s live journalism platform. She raised the profile of The Post's conference business by linking it to the outlet's award-winning enterprise journalism and utilizing its deep bench of seasoned journalists as moderators. Working with the newsroom leadership, Romano also ensured that The Post had its first-ever political convention venues outside the official workspaces in both Cleveland and Philadelphia.

At the Post, Romano pioneered some of the paper’s most successful ventures over the years--both editorially and financially. In 1992, she developed, designed, reported and edited the Post's then-new daily personality column, The Reliable Source. Ms. Romano developed and produced the paper’s first online video series, “The Obama Era: Voices of Power,” which featured interviews with top Obama officials and other influential policy makers.   

Romano was also the first editorial director for POLITICO’s large event business. She was instrumental in shaping live editorial programming and content for the organization's dozens of issue-driven events, as well as its largest event series, Women Rule and What Works. POLITICO took its programming to a half dozen, featuring hundreds of newsmakers, hosting thousands of guests and engaging hundreds of thousands via livestream. 

She was a resident media fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and a fellow at the IOP.  Romano is a member of the Gridiron Club, the oldest media organization in the country.