Thousands of young women flock to Washington each year, armed with degrees in fields as diverse as political science, communications, public policy, and economics. Mostly, they come for jobs, fueled by energy and even idealism. Sometimes it takes a while for their efforts to have an impact. But not always.
This year, National Journal's annual Women of Washington list focuses on individuals under 35 who quickly made their mark in Congress, think tanks, lobby shops, federal agencies, and other venues. Lists like these are highly unscientific, so this year, in addition to soliciting suggestions from our staff, we asked members and readers—through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter—to nominate young women who had already made a difference. We were flooded with responses.
Then: the hard part. Trimming the list to the 25 most influential was easier than getting an immigration bill through Congress—but just barely. The result reflects a range of D.C. professions. It includes both of the female House members under 35, three House staffers, three Senate aides, two reporters, three executive-branch employees, two White House staffers, three political strategists, three lobbyists, and four think-tank analysts.
Each woman we've featured has a fuller story; we haven't tried to boil down their lives to a few words. These women are still writing their own stories, and we expect them to make an impact in the years to come. As Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the youngest woman in Congress, recalls of her early efforts: "Naysayers have often said, 'You're a nice girl with a bright future, but too young and inexperienced. It's not your time.' " The women on our list are proving the naysayers wrong.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, 29 Vice President, the Winston Group
Republicans have a youth-vote problem, and one strategist to flag it was Anderson. As a pollster, she studies young Americans' voting patterns and identifies ways to get the GOP message to resonate with millennials. "I really love data—and, most of all, a science-based approach to politics," says Anderson, who graduated from the University of Florida and Johns Hopkins and attended the Women's Campaign School at Yale. Next for the Orlando native is a transition from youth-voter issues—"I'm about to age out of the demographic that I write about"—to demographic and sociological shifts that are changing society and affecting voter behavior.
JAIME HERRERA BEUTLER, 34 Representative, R-Wash., 3rd Congressional District
Herrera Beutler, who has a University of Washington communications degree, once held internships in Washington's state Senate and the White House Office of Political Affairs under President George W. Bush. Next appointed to a vacant state House seat in 2007, she was later elected on her own, partly because of her bipartisan bill that gave tax breaks to small-business owners serving in the military. In 2010, she became Washington state's first Hispanic in Congress. She focuses on protecting her economically distressed southwestern district's natural resources and helping beleaguered homeowners. "I went to Congress to help make job creation its No. 1 priority," says the youngest female Republican in Congress. She serves on the Appropriations and Small Business committees.
RACHEL BOVARD, 29 Legislative Director, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
As Paul delivered a 13-hour filibuster in March against the use of drones on U.S. soil, Bovard coordinated from the cloakroom. She considers that her proudest moment since joining his staff in January 2011. Hailing from Rochester, N.Y., Bovard keeps Paul informed about U.S. actions abroad, intelligence-gathering, Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and basic property rights. Bitten by the "D.C. bug" as a political-science major while interning from Pennsylvania's Grove City College, she became a House legislative assistant in July 2006. Bovard says her master's degree in political management from George Washington University helps her daily, and she expects to be with Paul for a long while. But someday she would like to toast him, and her own political career, as a sommelier with her own restaurant.
ERIN CURRIER, 34 Director, Economic Mobility Project, Pew Charitable Trusts
Currier's research on American economic mobility has garnered attention from both sides of the aisle by documenting the public's sense that moving up in America isn't as easy as once thought. Currier, a University of Michigan English and sociology grad with a master's in public policy from George Washington, oversees efforts to disperse facts and figures related to mobility. Her work has influenced the bipartisan Senate Economic Mobility Caucus that launched last July, the same month Pew released its initial report. "We've really been able to cultivate a bipartisan collaboration around the research and outreach. No party owns the American Dream," she says. "It really is a universal interest."
LaDAVIA DRANE, 30 Executive Director, Congressional Black Caucus
Drane has worked on everything from banking and housing to job development. But to this Cleveland native, the most important issue—on both Capitol Hill and K Street—is child nutrition. After campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008, Drane worked for Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio. She moved to K Street to lobby for the Grocery Manufacturers Association before returning to support the CBC chairwoman on immigration, education, sequestration, the Voting Rights Act, and other caucus interests. The graduate of the Farmer School of Business at Ohio's Miami University and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law credits her success to two things: a good boss and prayer.
EUGENIA EDWARDS, 34 Public Policy Adviser, Patton Boggs
A New Orleans native, Edwards started her job with the powerful Washington lobby firm in 2005—just two weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit. Once assured of her family's safety, she leveraged her Hill know-how to make sure hospitals received emergency funding. The Rhodes College graduate gained a deep knowledge of health care as legislative-policy clerk for the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where she started out answering phones and ended up working on such issues as reauthorizing the National Institutes of Health. Now, her expertise extends to guiding clients through the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, including helping small businesses learn how to "play by the rules without losing, too."
DENISE FERIOZZI, 33 Political Director, EMILY's List
Progressive women who aspire to elected office would do well to jot down Feriozzi's name. As the political director for EMILY's List, which backs Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights, she oversees the nationwide program that recruits and trains women to run. The College of William & Mary graduate also manages the group's independent expenditure arm and the polling and research operations. Before joining EMILY's List in 2009, she worked for the Democratic Governors Association and for Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaigns in several states. "We're trying to get more women in the pipeline," she says. "We do a lot of work to make sure we're giving the best information, understand barriers, [and reach] out in the best possible way."
NICOLE FOLTZ, 30 Counsel, House Budget Committee
As a child in Ohio, Foltz never anticipated she'd become enthralled with the budget process. Yet as a House Budget Committee lawyer, she drafts legislation and monitors bills for how they will affect the budget and the deficit. Foltz landed the position in 2011, after working for the Senate Budget Committee, getting her law degree from Regent University, and interning with then-Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio. She is quick to showcase her boss, Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., instead of her own accomplishments. "I don't know how I landed here. It's really such an honor," she says. "The budget impacts all Americans."
HEATHER FOSTER, 32 Public Engagement Adviser, White House Office of Public Engagement
Foster's decision to support a candidate she believed in brought her from Chicago to the White House. "I had a lot of interest in everything the president stood for," says the Georgia native and Northwestern University graduate. An internship with the Obama campaign in 2007 led to a full-time job reaching out to the faith community in Florida. Today, Foster works with the public, particularly members of the African-American community, to advance the president's priorities. Her duties include ensuring that key stakeholders are invited to events when Obama travels and working with his speech-writing team on how best to engage people locally and nationally.
TULSI GABBARD, 32 Representative, D-Hawaii, 2nd Congressional District
"Early on, I learned the importance of service and 'living aloha,' " says Gabbard, whose family relocated from American Samoa when she was 2. She started an environmental-education nonprofit at 19, became the nation's youngest-ever state House representative at 21, got a business degree from Hawaii Pacific University, joined the Army National Guard, and, between tours of duty in Iraq and Kuwait, worked as a legislative aide. Now the captain is Congress's youngest female Democrat, focusing on, among other things, sexual abuse in the military and North Korea's bellicosity. But in Hawaii, that drive changes. "I hold on very tightly to my surfboard when I'm home. I appreciate having the opportunity to not only be home but to understand why I'm working in Washington."
JULIANNA GOLDMAN, 32 White House Reporter, Bloomberg News
Growing up in Bethesda, Md., Goldman was torn between becoming a journalist and a veterinarian. At Barnard, politics won out over science classes, and after graduating she joined Bloomberg in global customer support. She quickly moved on to producer, reporter, and, since January 2010, her current beat. Covering both Obama campaigns, Goldman also co-moderated an October 2011 GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire. Now a semester shy of her master's in government at Johns Hopkins University, Goldman refines her craft by watching reporters she's long admired. What does she like most about covering the seat of power? "Capturing history in real time—and that no two days are the same."
KRISTAL QUARKER HARTSFIELD, 32 National Field Director for African-American Initiatives, Republican National Committee
Armed with a political-science degree from the University of Alabama (Birmingham) and a master's in public administration from Alabama's Troy University, Hartsfield embarked in politics as minority coalitions director for the Tennessee GOP. On the Hill, she was the first black senior professional staffer on African affairs for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and she also directed business outreach and communications for the House Republican Policy Committee. When she joined the RNC in May, Chairman Reince Priebus, looking ahead to the 2016 elections, tasked her with strengthening party ties to diverse communities. Hartsfield was raised in Freemanville, Ala., and says, "With my Southern upbringing, I was taught to solve problems and not just talk."
AYESHA KHANNA, 33 Counsel and Policy Adviser, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Khanna's role is to help ensure constructive, informed discussion between China and the Senate's most senior Democrats. It's the kind of job that Khanna, with a B.A. from the University of California (Riverside) and a law degree from George Washington University, always wanted, and she credits her success to mentoring by bosses such as Reid and, previously, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. In her post since September 2011, Khanna addresses privacy and intellectual-property rights, international investment, and Chinese trade. "Ayesha not only knows her issues cold but has the type of personality that brings people and industry stakeholders to the table," says Stewart Verdery, of Washington government consulting firm Monument Policy.
ANNIE LOWREY, 28 Economic Policy Reporter, The New York Times Washington Bureau
Lowrey's stories have focused on the recession's fallout, including unemployment, economic growth forecasts, and the cost and value of a college education. What to do about the long-term unemployed is one of the most interesting economic questions as the country slowly pulls out of recession, she says. Originally from West Hartford, Conn., Lowrey studied English at Harvard University before launching a career in journalism. She previously worked for Slate, ForeignPolicy, and The New Yorker. She is one half of a Washington journalism power couple: Her husband is Ezra Klein, the editor of Wonkblog and a columnist at The Washington Post.
ANNE MacMILLAN, 34 Deputy Chief of Staff, Agriculture Department
Although her grandfather was once a small-scale bean farmer, MacMillan, who hails from Sacramento, Calif., knew very little about agriculture when she first served as legislative director to Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif. But she believed the way to rise on Capitol Hill was to work for a committee. Toiling on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources panels and advising then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the 2008 farm bill led MacMillan to USDA as a senior policy adviser and then to her March promotion. MacMillan, who has a B.A. from the University of California (San Diego) and a law degree from George Washington, has been helping to shape nutrition policies and first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign.
PEPPER PENNINGTON NATONSKI, 30 Chief of Staff, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.
The University of Florida political-science major has been in Washington since 2004. She started in press and communications posts for three Southern House members before becoming one of the Hill's youngest chiefs of staff, first for Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., in January 2010, then in January 2013 for Hudson, the freshman from North Carolina considered a rising GOP star. The Orlando native advises the lawmaker on his committee service on Homeland Security (he chairs the Transportation Security Subcommittee), agriculture, and education and the workforce. "Being a successful chief, first and foremost, involves making your constituents the No. 1 one focus of each day," Natonski says.
LAUREN OPPENHEIMER, 34 Deputy Director, Economic Program, Third Way
Former Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., still watches his onetime legislative aide closely, saying she "makes sense of the markets" to bipartisan watchers on the Hill, Wall Street, and beyond. Noted as a leader and networker, Oppenheimer, who has a master's from the London School of Economics, applies lessons learned as a legislative aide to then-Reps. Mel Watt, D-N.C., and Hodes to her role at Third Way, the nonpartisan think tank she joined in 2011. "People and politics are integral elements to the world of economics and finance," says the Montreal native born to American parents. "Being a part of the discussion and debate on the financial crisis is exactly where I want to be."
JENNIFER PSAKI, 34 Spokeswoman, State Department
Psaki is the daily voice of U.S. foreign policy, providing the official Washington response to the civil war in Syria, tensions with Russia, or a crackdown on dissidents in China. "I've been incredibly fortunate to have a front seat to history in this job, and to work with some of the most brilliant and consequential policy experts and thinkers in the world," says Psaki, on the job since February. The College of William & Mary graduate from Greenwich, Conn., gravitated to political communication roles, serving Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as working on both Obama presidential campaigns and John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid.
LILA ROSE, 24 President and Founder, Live Action
Rose was 15 when she began working to end abortion. In 2008, two years before she graduated from the University of California (Los Angeles), she registered her organization as a tax-exempt social-welfare group that advocates for unborn babies and exposes what she believes are abuses by abortion providers. Her outspokenness at antiabortion rallies, her sting investigations of abortion providers, and her social-media presence have made her a national figure. Nearly 567,000 people have liked the group's page on Facebook; Rose personally has more than 23,000 followers on Twitter and 45,000 on Facebook. That attention has caught the eye of legislators, she says, pointing to recent legislative actions around the country to limit abortion.
HAYDEN RHUDY, 30 Senior Health Policy Adviser, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
Through diligent and consistent work on health care, Rhudy embodies how young, smart staffers can gain influence quickly on the Hill. Rhudy, who hails from Summit, N.J., and graduated from American University, oversees a portfolio that includes drug policy, medical research, AIDS funding, and the insurance marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act. "They all say, on the Hill it's about timing," she says. Rhudy has worked in the Senate for eight years, including a long one spent drafting and amending provisions of the health care law. In that year, she also managed to squeeze in classes for her joint master's degrees in government and business administration from Johns Hopkins.
RACQUEL RUSSELL, 34 Deputy Assistant to the President, Urban Affairs and Economic Mobility
A beloved uncle often pulled Russell inside from playing in the Bronx streets to watch C-SPAN with him. That exposure kindled her desire to make a difference. "As I got older, my love for public service grew, and the opportunity to influence policy that would have the greatest impact on underserved communities and vulnerable populations became my North Star," says Russell, a University of Miami graduate with a law degree from George Washington. Among her D.C. jobs, the one helping Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., shape several provisions in the Affordable Care Act propelled her to the White House in September 2010. Now she focuses on efforts to "improve early-childhood education, raise the minimum wage, and revitalize distressed communities."
AMY SHLOSSMAN, 30 Chief of Staff, Homeland Security Department
Shlossman, 30, shelved her plans for law school after graduating with a management degree from the University of Arizona, instead becoming policy director for then-Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona. She followed Napolitano to Washington in January 2009 to become Homeland Security's deputy chief of staff and was promoted to chief in March. "I don't think anything teaches you more about the department than knowing what the nuts and bolts are comprised in the budget," says the Tempe, Ariz., native, charged with running a complicated Cabinet department with 230,000 employees. "I really think a second-term focus area is figuring out new ways to bring our agencies together to accomplish our mission more effectively and more efficiently."
CAMERON SMITH, 28 Chief Operating Officer, American Action Forum
Smith is the force behind day-to-day operations at the American Action Forum, the right-leaning, research-focused sister of the American Action Network, a conservative group that spent millions of dollars trying to influence the 2012 elections. "We do research and the think-tank thing in D.C.," she says. "We're interested in making good policy good politics." A Chicago native, Smith graduated from American University with a master's in public policy in 2008. She interned for Lehman Brothers' D.C. office, then took her expertise in tax policy to DHE Consulting, an economic and policy firm. Her work there positioned her to join the forum, which was launched in the wake of the 2008 presidential election.
SAMANTHA SMITH, 27 Manager of Global Communications and Public Affairs, Google
Smith got her first taste of politics on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and she believes "working for a losing campaign was the best thing that ever happened to me." After that, the University of North Carolina graduate became press secretary and reelection communications director for Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. That experience led to her dream job in 2009, handling the policy side of everything from government requests for information to innovative projects such as Google Glass. "It's such a fast-paced industry," says the daughter of Fed Ex founder Fred Smith who was raised in Memphis, Tenn. "There's always something fun and different."
KATHERINE VARGAS, 30 White House Director of Hispanic Media
Sixteen years after arriving in Boca Raton, Fla., from her native Bogota, Colombia, Vargas is the voice of the administration to the millions of Latinos who get their news via Hispanic media. Long involved in the country's Hispanic communities, Vargas was the director of communication for the National Immigration Forum and worked at the National Immigration Law Center before joining the White House in 2013. A graduate of Miami's Florida International University, she hopes her story inspires. "I came to this country in 1997 hardly knowing any English," she said. "To be working at the White House every day—I still kind of pinch myself, because it speaks volumes about the opportunity this country offers."
Contributors: Stephanie Czekalinski, Jody Brannon, Kristin Roberts, Nancy Cook, Margot Sanger-Katz, Sophie Yarborough, Ben Terris, Fawn Johnson, James Kitfield and Rebecca Kaplan
- Politics & Government
- White House
- Rand Paul
- Pew Charitable Trusts