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Who is Garret Graves, the top GOP negotiator in debt ceiling talks? : NPR

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., and Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C., speak to reporters about the debt limit negotiations outside the House Republican conference meeting on Capitol Hill.

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Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., and Rep. Patrick McHenry, RN.C., speak to reporters about the debt limit negotiations outside the House Republican conference meeting on Capitol Hill.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy turned to a close adviser who helped him lock in the votes to be elected Speaker for an even tougher mission: brokering a deal to avoid a historic credit limit default. from the country.

Rep. Garret Graves is not one of the top elected officers or committee chair, but his weakhis key demeanor and energy policy expertise won him a seat across from the president’s top aides in the debt ceiling talks.

South Dakota GOP Rep. Dusty Johnson recently summed up Graves’ approach at a House GOP conference that’s packed with lawmakers with national nicknames who make the rounds on cable news and have numerous followings on social media: “Garret Graves is anonymous for ordinary americans, and that’s exactly what he wants.”

Graves helped McCarthy round up the votes to be elected president – after 15 ballots over 4 days of tense talks. Now he’s pushing the president’s agenda to cut federal spending as part of a deal to boost the country’s borrowing power.

“Numbers are fundamental here – the speaker was very clear: a red line spends less money and unless and until we get there, the the rest is really irrelevant,” Graves said after a negotiating session on Capitol Hill.

As the days of talks progressed, he answered questions from a growing number of journalists covering the various negotiation sessions. On Tuesday, he was blunt: “I’m telling you we still have a substantial distance between us and them on the numbers right now,” referring to the rift between House Republicans and White House negotiators.

Graves’ role in negotiating GOP bills between ‘5 families’

The Louisiana Republican played a vital role for McCarthy in January’s drawn-out presidential fight, which put him in the middle of a bloc of members making demands.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern, R-Okla., Who leads a group of fiscal conservatives that includes Graves, said it was good practice for what was to come.

“You have to appoint people who can sit down and solve this problem,Hern talked about the debt limit negotiations. “And that’s what Garrett has been accused of doing since, you know, January, actually, before there was a debt limit issue. He worked on the speaker to get his vote. He so obviously gained the speaker’s trust to come out and talk with us.”

Graves’ ability to tone down the drama during the contest for the presidency led McCarthy to give him a new position at the leadership table. He coordinates strategy with the 5 House GOP factions – dubbed the “5 Families,” a reference from the movie “Godfather” about feuding mob families.

Johnson leads the Main Street Republican Caucus, a group of more establishment GOP members, and says confidence is why Graves was elevated to this latest high-stakes role.

“It’s my assessment that Garret Graves not only has the speaker’s trust, he has the conference’s trust, and he has the trust of the Five Families.“, he told reporters.And that’s remarkable.”

Ohio Republican David Joyce leads another such family – the Republican Governance Group – a group of moderates. He says Graves tipped him off when they met at the gym about the talks. Like the others, the first thing he mentions is Graves sense of humor. He said he had a reputation for making practical jokes and recounted one that unfolded during a congressional hearing.

Rodney Davis [a former House member from Illinois]once during a hearing — [Graves] set up an iPad and the level behind him and above him with an arrow that said “doofus” – poor Rodney makes his point and everyone sees doofus. They don’t hear a word he says!”

North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, another key McCarthy ally who took part in those debt talks, said there was a general sense of civility at the negotiating table — “and since Graves is in the room, a little comedy.”

Before being elected to the House in 2014, Graves chaired a state coastal council in Louisiana, overseeing the construction of levees and negotiating permits for land restoration. In 2010, Graves was a trustee of the Deep Water Horizon facility for its Gulf oil spill – the largest in U.S. history.

Joyce notes that Graves has extensive knowledge of energy projects. During discussions on the debt ceiling, House GOP members are pushing to add reforms to speed the approval of new projects to the compromise bill. Graves authored the proposal that was included in the House GOP bill that passed last month. Joyce says mastering politics and GOP conference politics is a balancing act.

“You need someone who understands and appreciates all the points and issues, and [Graves] is definitely very good at the issues he’s dealt with,” he told NPR. I worked with him a lot on the climate with him and stuff, and he’s always very precise, very detailed, and he just has a great mind to make sure all the chess pieces move on the chessboard.”

Graves and the chief White House negotiator share their home neighborhood

Graves has made some good connections across the aisle. Shalanda Young – the White House budget director and senior debt negotiator – hails from her southern Louisiana district and they have already worked together to approve funds for infrastructure projects there.

Vermont Democratic Senator Peter Welch served 8 terms in the House and was praised.

“Garrett is a very efficient and skilful person. He has a good temper, very smart,” he said.So the fact that Kevin [McCarthy]the implication is an indication of the respect the speaker has for him.”

If Graves can help broker a deal, he’ll likely be called upon to help sell it to his party – but Johnson says he’s not looking for credit.

“A lot of congressmen desperately want you to believe they’re the smartest person in the room — it’s not Garret Graves,” he said.. “For him it’s about the country. For him it’s about the deal. It’s not about getting one more list of accolades on Garret Graves – his obituary. That’s the right person at the right time.”

But with a tricky path to getting a deal with the president’s office before the country defaults, Graves could also be blamed if things go wrong.

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