An eastbound Norfolk Southern Corp. unit coal train passes through Waddy, Kentucky, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Meet the McConnell adviser determined to stop the Clean Power Plan

November 3, 2015 Catherine Traywick

The man behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s determined campaign to block President Obama’s climate agenda says success is about “doing your homework.”

For Neil Chatterjee that homework has recently centered on the McConnell’s strategy for scuttling EPA’s carbon rules, whether that means writing to every governor in the country urging them not to implement the regulations or pushing for legislation to stop the rules in their tracks.

Last week, as the Kentucky Republican prepared to file a Congressional Review Act resolution to disapprove the EPA’s carbon rule, Chatterjee found time to sit down with Bloomberg Government and talk about how to bend his ear, who he turns to for advice, and why this staunch Republican from coal country drives a hybrid.

Photograph: Catherine Traywick/Bloomberg
Photograph: Catherine Traywick/Bloomberg

What does a lobbyist need to know before knocking on your door?

It goes in this order: Kentucky, the Senate Republican Conference, 60 votes, the House, the president. So for anyone coming to our office to raise a policy issue, the first thing they have to explain is how this will affect Kentucky. Is this a proposal that will lead to job creation or economic growth in the Commonwealth? Or is it going to adversely affect people in the Bluegrass?

Once there is a sense of the Kentucky implications, it’s important to lay out the national impacts. Is this legislation that can unify Kentucky? Can it unify the Senate Republican Conference? Can this get 60 votes to pass the Senate? Can this clear the House and would the president sign it?

You’re from Kentucky — would you ever move back?

Absolutely. I love Kentucky — I miss Kentucky. It’s friends, family, horses, bourbon and basketball. I love college basketball — University of Kentucky Wildcats!

My editor wants me to ask you about football.

I love football. In terms of my favorite football team… prior to moving to Kentucky my family was in Buffalo, N.Y., so I grew up following the Buffalo Bills. Painful as it has been, I’ve tried to maintain loyalty and fanship to the Buffalo Bills. But my kids are into Washington sports teams so they’re big Redskins fans. So, as equally painful as it is, I try to watch the Redskins with them.

Sounds like you’re a family man.

I’ve got three amazing children who I try to spend every free moment with. I’m currently coaching two different youth soccer teams that my two boys are on and I think I probably have more fun with it than they do. My daughter, who’s three, has already made me commit that I will coach her team when she’s old enough.

At this age, the days are long but the years are short. I try to maximize every available second with them.

What’s a typical day like for you?

The days start early when Congress is in session. I’m up pretty early, reading, getting caught up on news, analysis. I’m physically here until the Senate floor closes, but Blackberrys and iPhones work everywhere, so it’s a 24/7-365 endeavor.

Are you on Blackberry or iPhone?

Both. One for work and one for personal. The iPhone is a wonderful toy but Blackberry is the work device.

Who do you talk to the most on a daily basis?

No question, it’s my wife. We are constantly in communication. She’s a great barometer for all things personal and professional for me.

She and I have been together since our junior year of high school. We went to the prom together. Honestly I could not do what I do without her love, without her support, without her managing my life in a lot of ways. And she is also my staunchest advocate.

Who else do you turn to for advice?

One of the nice things about being here is that I can turn to the Senate Chaplain, Rev. Barry C. Black. Then I’ve got some really trusted, established senior policy wonks. I don’t want to isolate anybody but C. Boyden Gray has been a trusted friend and mentor. Most importantly, probably my parents. They both work in cancer research and have done incredible things in their lives and they bring a wisdom to discussions that I value.

How does someone earn your trust?

Candor. Honesty, when it does not suit your interests. I really pride myself on shooting straight and serving as an honest broker and I very much appreciate when that is reciprocated.

Which of your many positions has been the most challenging?

It’s hard to stay because it changes. When I started working here as a young staffer, it could be overwhelming — everything that that you have to contend with. As I was here longer and gained more experience, things slowed down and I got more comfortable, but your responsibilities tend to grow and that comes with its own pressures. I wouldn’t say that one stage of my career has been more or less challenging than any other other.

Describe your first day on the Hill?

Gosh… I was out of law school and I had an opportunity to intern with the House Committee on Ways and Means which has beautiful offices over in the Longworth Building. The first thing you see are these marble corridors and you walk into the hearing room and see the column. It’s just an inspiring experience. The word I would use to describe my first day here was “awestruck.”

Are you a desk luncher or a power luncher?

All depends on the day and what’s going on. There’s certainly value in catching up with colleagues or friends and hearing about what they’re working on. But not every day provides that opportunity.

Senate Carryout is pretty quick and pretty easy.

What would your colleagues be surprised to learn about you?

I drive a hybrid. I’ve got the Clean Special Fuel Vehicle plates and can access the HOV lanes, which takes a very long commute and makes it somewhat manageable.

What’s next in the push against the Clean Power Plan?

Leader McConnell promised to do everything he could to fight for the people of Kentucky, who were concerned about the impact the Clean Power Plan would have on their jobs, bills and way of life. He is going to continue that fight. It is an honor and a privilege for me to staff him.

Who are you rooting for in the Presidential race?

The Republican.

(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.)

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