Longtime aide to three Republican Senate leaders leaving the Senate

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Rohit Kumar’s three-year-old daughter was in tears.

It was Jan. 2, and the longtime aide to the past three Republican Senate leaders had been coming home late, spending long hours at work on negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff.

That morning, Kumar was headed out to pick up the dog — they had boarded him at a kennel in preparation for a vacation that the fiscal cliff negotiations had been scuttled. But when he picked up his keys and put on his coat, and his daughter “just lost it,” begging him to stay.

That, Kumar told The Daily Caller, “was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back,” and convinced him that after more than a decade in the Senate, serving on the staff of three different Senate Republican leaders, it was time for him to go.

Kumar came to the Senate in 1995 as a legislative assistant for economic and tax policy to Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. He left to attend law school, but returned to Gramm’s office shortly thereafter as chief counsel and legislative director.

In 2002, then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, in his words, “enticed” Kumar to join his staff as general counsel and chief policy adviser. He stayed on with the next Republican Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, and was later promoted to senior counsel and policy director. In 2007, he took on those same roles in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office and was promoted to deputy chief of staff in 2010.

His role in McConnell’s office covers a wide variety of things — he coordinates with the House, the White House, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office on various legislative issues, and watches the big picture of what is coming up next. Over the years, he said, he’s taken on the role of “chief negotiator” in the kind of high-stakes bargaining between McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden that resulted in last year’s fiscal cliff deal.

“He has become an institution,” former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told The Daily Caller.

“He’s extremely talented, very intelligent, and has become a master at understanding the Senate institution and how it works,” Lott said.

“He will certainly be missed by not only Sen. McConnell, but everybody who worked with him … on both sides of the aisle,” Lott added.

Kumar will leave at the end of this month, when the Senate heads into a month of August recess.

“It’s a decision that is probably a couple years overdue,” he said.

His main motivation is to be able to spend more time with his wife and daughter, and he will be happy to be rid of “the complete unpredictability of the schedule … everyday when I leave for work not knowing what time I’m coming home.”

His wife had previously been fine with his job since she knew he loved it. But at the end of December last year, amid the same fiscal cliff deal talks that sent his daughter into hysterics, he arrived home around 11:30 one night, and while they were sitting on the couch catching up, she told him, “whenever you’re ready to be done with this, I’m not going to object.”

“It took a while to personally come to grips” with the fact that he was really going to leave, Kumar said. The wheels have been in motion for the past several months — informing McConnell and the chief of staff and “formulating a succession plan.”

The August recess was the “logical time to leave,” Kumar said. It is the most extensive break in the Senate schedule, and it will give the new staff “a month to settle into new roles” so that come September, “everyone kind of hits the ground running.”

In a statement, McConnell called Kumar “one of the brightest, most capable staffers to have worked in the United States Senate and we have benefited immensely from his strategic advice and counsel.”

“He will be missed not only by our leadership team but by the Conference and the entire Senate,” he said.

Still, Kumar says the wheels will continue to churn without him.

“People step up. No one is irreplaceable around here,” he said.

Kumar does not know where he is headed next. He plans to take two months and spend time with his family.

After that, he hopes to find a job where he can “use the skills and the knowledge that I’ve gained over the past few years,” and “that would be equally fun and challenging” as the job he is about to give up.

“I’m going to stay involved in some way, I just need to figure out the best way to do that,” he said.

His advice for his successor?

“At the end of the day, all you have around this place is your reputation,” he said, “and you should guard that jealously.”

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