To hear Alexis Covey-Brandt tell it, time did not exist before she worked for Steny Hoyer.
"I don't really have a 'before Steny Hoyer,'" she says when asked about her background. "It's all just Steny Hoyer for my career. There's no before and no after."
Technically, that's not true. Hoyer hired the Arizona native and Haverford College graduate in 2003, after she had worked on Mark Shriver's unsuccessful congressional campaign and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, both in Maryland in 2002.
Other than that, though, Covey-Brandt's career ladder—and attitude—have been all about Hoyer. It takes dedication to be a chief of staff for any lawmaker, but acquaintances described Covey-Brandt as extraordinarily focused on the minority whip.
Covey-Brandt has been with Hoyer since he first became a member of party leadership. He was elected minority whip just months before he hired her, and he served as House majority leader when Democrats controlled the House from 2007 to 2011. Before becoming his chief of staff, Covey-Brandt was Hoyer's floor director, helping count votes and ensuring that members side with party leadership.
Parker Poling, chief of staff to Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, describes Covey-Brandt as "extremely devoted to her boss, above and beyond the average staffer. She's really dedicated to Hoyer."
And that selflessness extends to interviews about herself, which Covey-Brandt admits she's uncomfortable with. When asked to take a photo, she requested that it be of her interacting with another staffer, rather than a solo portrait. And when asked what makes her good at her job, she demurred.
"My role, I think, is defined by just supporting the great team that we have in place because they all know what they're doing," she says. "To the extent that I can help them in any way throughout the day, that's sort of what I do, or help Mr. Hoyer."
Covey-Brandt says he seems to inspire loyalty among staffers, some of whom have stayed for "20 or 30 years," she says.
That loyalty, she says, is due to a combination of Hoyer holding his staffers to a high bar and to a sort of gender blindness—which is particularly important with a staff that has more women than most. Hoyer's office is split roughly 50-50 between men and women, and that tendency to treat staffers equally is part of the reason so many have stayed for years, Covey-Brandt says.
"I think that he's as hard on all of us—he's as tough and as demanding on all of us—equally across the entire staff and over his career," she says. "And the result has been that it's precisely because he doesn't treat women any differently than he treats the men that come through his office that we have, I think, almost perfect gender equality."
In a field in which 82 percent of female staffers in National Journal's recent poll say there was "a lot" or at least "some" sexism on Capitol Hill—and in which some female staffers aren't allowed to meet one-on-one with male members of Congress—Covey-Brandt says Hoyer goes a long way simply by treating staffers the same.
"If you adopt the premise that, in general, women and men are equally talented, then over time you're going to have equally talented amounts of men and women in your office," she says.
Although Covey-Brandt described her long tenure with Hoyer as the norm within his office—"the life of a Hoyer staffer"—she stands out in that she has worked only for him. Many of Hoyer's staffers might stay for a long time, but few work their way up from a legislative assistant to chief of staff all within the same office, says George Kundanis, a deputy chief of staff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who got to know Covey-Brandt when she was working the front desk in Hoyer's office.
Covey-Brandt may prefer not to put the spotlight on herself, but that singular focus on Hoyer and his office is her biggest strength, Kundanis says.
"When she says what Mr. Hoyer wants," he says, "it is what Mr. Hoyer wants."
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Jack Fitzpatrick is a staff correspondent at National Journal. He has previously written for USA TODAY, NBCNews.com, Slate, The Arizona Republic and other newspapers and websites. He graduated from Arizona State University with a master's degree in mass communication and a bachelor's degree in journalism.