The ongoing government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, has crystallized for many Americans that Washington skews more “day-care center” than “center of the free world.” And as Republicans and Democrats alike address the furlough with all the sophistication of a playground brawl—dropping f-bombs, throwing “temper tantrums,” and snubbing lunch invites—there is Shahira Knight, the adult encouraging everyone to play nice.
The press has appointed a handful of staffers as the “adults” in Donald Trump’s administration, a classification meant to distinguish the few officials who have government expertise from the many who don’t. But even some of those officials eventually surrender to the rhythms of this West Wing, especially as Trump chafes against their constraints and helps fuel rumors of their diminished standing. They call one another “morons.” They form interoffice coalitions. They become “senior administration officials” for the reporters they profess to hate.
Knight is the rare exception. After nearly two years in Trump’s White House, the 47-year-old White House director of legislative affairs, the president’s chief advocate on Capitol Hill, has managed to evade the kind of credibility crises that consume her colleagues regularly. She’s become a key character in Trump’s circle even as she cuts the swampy profile his voters detest. And she’s done so by ditching the playbook that has guided most officials in the administration, preferring conference calls with congressional aides to Fox & Friends appearances and prioritizing sketching out tax policy to gaming out who might be the next chief of staff.