In Obama's first term, Sean Kennedy was one of his point persons in dealings with the Senate. Today, you can count Kennedy as a fan of Pagano, the man who has the top White House job working with the Senate. "The White House would call Ed their power forward even if he wasn't [6 feet 8]," says Kennedy. "He is a lumbering encyclopedia of what legislative plays have won and lost in the Senate during his tenure there and he can draw on a huge bank of goodwill with individual senators as he pushes the president's agenda." If you go back a couple of decades, Pagano actually was a power forward, starring for the Catamounts of the University of Vermont before graduating in 1985. Then it was off to law school at Fordham University and a long relationship with Vermont's senior senator, Patrick Leahy, starting in 1993. Pagano, who hails from D.C., served Leahy as chief of staff and senior counsel of the Judiciary Committee, along with a stint as Vermont field director for the Clinton-Gore campaign. When he jumped to the White House to replace Shawn Maher in 2012, Leahy praised Pagano, calling him "as exemplary and honest and modest a public servant as any I have known." At age 51, he's certainly retained his idealism even after all those years on the Hill. "The Senate can and should be the conscience of the nation," he says. "And I hope in some small way I can help the administration and the Senate unite to achieve those goals."
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.