The National Republican Congressional Committee, already suffering from electoral losses in 2006, a wave of retirements, a brewing accounting scandal and a confrontation between its chairman and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), has just absorbed another blow with the resignation of its communications director.
Although Jessica Boulanger says she’s leaving for another job too good to pass up, more than a dozen interviews with Republicans on and off Capitol Hill who are familiar with operations at the committee say her departure arises out of simmering staff tension within the NRCC and is also the bitter aftershock of a confrontation last fall between Boehner and NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.). In that showdown, Cole resisted pressure from the Republican leader to remove his two top NRCC aides, one of whom — Executive Director Pete Kirkham — played a central role in Boulanger’s decision to leave.
Kirkham increasingly marginalized Boulanger, a former spokeswoman for House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), for her perceived loyalty to Boehner rather than to Cole, Republicans familiar with committee operations argued. She was left out of meetings, and her communications team was increasingly required to clear memos, statements and press releases with the chairman and his top aides before distributing them.
Asked for a response from either Cole or Kirkham on the circumstances surrounding Boulanger’s resignation, a spokesman for the NRCC provided only this statement from Cole: “Jessica’s advice and counsel have made her an integral part of the NRCC team. She has brought a level of experience and aggressiveness to this committee that has clearly caught the eye of many, and it has earned her a great opportunity. I am thankful for her service and she will be missed.”
One GOP operative close to Cole insisted that Boulanger’s departure was not indicative of larger staff problems at the committee. “I think this is the first person to leave; it’s the first one they’ve lost,” said this source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “That’s a testament to the NRCC, a sign of real strength.”
However, even this source — a self-described “Cole fan” — acknowledged that “these are difficult times” for all House Republicans. Another Republican insider said that the still-simmering feud between Boehner and Cole is one-sided in the sense “that the tension is all coming from Boehner to Cole” and isn’t being reciprocated. Still, this operative suggested that “morale at the NRCC is very good” but noted that Republicans face huge problems in the fall unless they get their staffing, message and strategy worked out.
In her only comment for this story, Boulanger said: “Serving as communications director has been a privilege that I will always be grateful for. It was a difficult decision, but I have been presented with an opportunity that I simply could not pass up. While my role might be changing, my commitment to helping our Republican team will not.”
Boulanger will join Prism Public Affairs, a bipartisan firm founded by Dale Leibach, a former aide to Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli.