When Barrett Karr was starting her career in politics, during her first annual evaluation, she was given a $3,000 raise.
Rep. Kay Granger, then Karr's boss, recalls Karr responding, "Don't think I'm not appreciative, but I think that's not enough." She made her case for a $5,000 raise, and Granger said she'd think about it.
"My chief of staff said, 'You are going to fire her, aren't you?'" Granger says. "I said, 'No, I thought that was pretty gutsy.'"
Granger gave Karr the $5,000 raise—and a few years later made Karr her chief of staff. Since then, Karr has worked her way up the ladder in politics, working for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the George W. Bush administration—in addition to private-sector work—before starting her current job as deputy chief of staff and policy director for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Karr joined McCarthy in February, shortly after he became majority leader. Since then, he has faced the challenge of helping keep a historically large House majority in line, hoping to prove that Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress can be a successful governing party. So far, that has meant getting both bodies to pass a joint budget deal that balances within a decade, voicing support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including veterans-affairs reforms in a military appropriations bill, and backing the 21st Century Cures Act that overhauls how the Food and Drug Administration regulates health care products.
Karr traces her full-steam-ahead attitude back to her early days working in Granger's office. It was a fortuitous coincidence that shortly after Karr started working in politics, Granger was elected to represent Karr's district in the House, becoming Texas's first Republican woman elected to Congress.
"Having that opportunity to work for a woman who saw no bounds in her opportunities or in her career, that certainly informed somebody like me, who was formulating my career strategy, particularly in my twenties," Karr says.
And Granger was mindful of being in the vanguard. If Karr learned anything from her boss's personality, it was an unwillingness to accept limitations, Granger says.
"It was always on my mind," Granger says. "I was the first woman to be mayor of Fort Worth. I'm still the only Republican woman who serves in Congress from Texas. "¦ The chair of Appropriations said there's never been a woman on Defense Appropriations, and I said, 'Well, I'll be the first.' Barrett Karr is the same way."
Now, as a staffer for a member of House leadership, Karr has the opportunity not only to follow in the footsteps of a leader among Republican women, but also to use her perspective to help shape the party's message for women.
Karr's new boss—she joined McCarthy's office in February—is determined to sell a brand of conservatism that appeals to women who may generally support Democrats, she says. That includes pushing back against Democrats' monopoly over what they refer to as "women's issues."
Her solution: Take a broad approach. As majority leader, McCarthy has been focused heavily on the budget economy, but "women's issues" don't have to be limited to health care. If Republicans want to talk about taxes, they need to keep in mind that women "are often the ones doing the taxes, paying the bills. These bottom-line approaches to the family income are so close to them," she says.
Karr's background on the Education and Workforce Committee is especially valuable in that sense. One of her goals is to advocate for more flexible educational opportunities that working mothers could take advantage of, like more scholarship options for online classes.
Karr herself has had to perform that balancing act of meeting her professional goals and raising her six-year-old son. In some regards, Karr has lucked out, she says: Her son was born just after President Bush's term ended, when she finished a hectic job at the White House, and her husband has now taken on a large share of the parenting duties.
"The president actually thanked me for my timing in terms of the pregnancy, meaning that I had waited until the very end," Karr says. "And I joked with him and said that if I had even seen my husband in the last five years, I actually might have had a child earlier."
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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.