The President’s Man


Raj Shah

President-elect Donald Trump has appointed a third Indian-American to an important position on the eve of taking over the Oval Office, Ela Dutt reports

Trump announced on Jan. 4 that Raj Shah will be his deputy assistant and director of research in the White House. In addition, he will also have the title of deputy director of communications. Shah told News India Times he is “thrilled” and “humbled” by the appointment.

Shah’s position as a direct staff member in the White House means he will not have to get Senate approval.

Both South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has been nominated to the cabinet-level position of United Nations Ambassador, and Seema Verma, the Trump pick to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, have to go through confirmation hearings.

Familiar Ground
Shah will be the behind-the-scenes man helping fashion the President’s message and broadcasting it on all communications platforms, with quick responses on deadline, in a high pressure environment, that requires research and accuracy.

He will be up against a media corps that is chomping at the bit to go after the White House having been chastised repeatedly by the president-elect, and a minority in Congress licking its wounds and eyeing opportunities for attacks after the defeat of their dynastic leader Hillary Clinton.

Shah, 32, will be on familiar ground, except he will now be working for the highest and most powerful office in the country. He joined the Republican National Committee fresh out of college and rose to the position of Deputy Director of Communications and Research Director, a position he holds today. He has worked closely with Reince Priebus, the former head of the RNC and now Trump’s chief of staff. Priebus knows Shah’s worth and gave possibly the strongest recommendation for the Indian-American to be brought in to work with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
At the RNC, Shah wrote the internal Republican White Paper on how to defeat Hillary Clinton even before she was chosen by her party as the presidential candidate. After that, he helped shape multipronged attacks on social media and elsewhere casting doubt on Clinton’s character and reliability, around the controversial email server the former Secretary of State used; on the Benghazi debacle where a U.S. diplomat was murdered; and through the Freedom of Information Act requests relating to the Secretary and her close aides.

With that background Shah will have his work cut out for him under the incoming President, a mercurial leader whose message may constantly shift ground, and whose Twitter diplomacy and public policy may be hard to manage.

He also has formidable opponents on Capitol Hill to counter. The future is one where despite one-party domination of the White House and Capitol Hill, Democrats are sharpening their tools under the leadership of hard-hitting, politically astute strategists and message-makers like Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Conservative Gains
On the Democratic side of the aisle, the election of five Indian-Americans to Congress is a signal achievement – Sen. Kamala Harris, Reps. Ami Bera and Ro Khanna, all from California, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal from Washington state.

But for a community that makes up only a small percentage of the U.S. and of which only about a quarter are Republican, Indian-Americans of the GOP are making significant political gains. The nominations of Haley, Verma, Shah, and a few Indian-American advisors on Trump’s advisory committees, his outreach to Hindu Americans, are important for them.

Trump’s Chief of Staff Priebus said of Shah and the others in the first wave of White House staff appointees, “These individuals will be key leaders in helping to implement the President-elect’s agenda and bring real change to Washington.”

“Each of them has been instrumental over the last several months, and in some cases years, in helping the President-elect,” he added.

“I am thrilled for the opportunity. Humbled and very excited to join this new administration to help its efforts and handle the message on the biggest agenda items,” Shah said.

As in the case of former President George W. Bush and outgoing President Obama, administrations deal with their highest priorities in the first year or two, he said. “I will have the opportunity to serve front and center” during the crucial phase, Shah told News India Times.

Attacking, Defending, Promoting
“My job is to ensure we are pumping out accurate and quality content, providing the core content for all channels of communication” including digital and social media to get the White House message out to the media and the public, Shah said. He said his other important duties will be helping Spicer for the daily White House press briefings, preparing responses, anticipating questions and attacks both from the press and other sources, supplementing information to counter questions, and preparing “background nuggets” through research.

“It could be for attacking, defending, or promoting issues and concerns,” Shah said. For instance, he recently prepared a brief that went out from the RNC, on how Trump “keeps delivering on jobs” as he had promised during the campaign.

He will be researching talking points, getting together background information and historical data to push back against Democrats on Capitol Hill as well.
“For instance, (Senator) Chuck Schumer is asking for unprecedented disclosure, and for delays in hearings (for nominees),” Shah said. “I would look into what is his own record on those” when a Democratic president was in the White House, he added.

Born in Norwalk, Connecticut to parents Premila and Suresh Shah, both from Gujarat, Shah graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He worked in the White House as a research assistant for three months during the Bush administration. “That’s my experience with the White House,” he quipped.

His father is a small business owner and an engineer by training; his mother is a dentist. His sister Amy Shah is a doctor in North Carolina. Shah has been to India several times to visit the extended family with his parents. “It’s a place where I see rich history and things I can relate to. But I’m an American,” he said, adding, “I do connect with Indian Americans here.”

He has met President-elect Trump once when the real-estate billionaire visited the offices of the RNC.