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Name: Childress, Mark
Current Position: Ambassador

The next ambassador to the East African nation of Tanzania will be an attorney well-versed in the ways of Washington. Mark B. Childress has served as an assistant to President Barack Obama and deputy chief of staff for planning at the White House since 2012. Nominated July 8, Childress would succeed Alfonso Lenhardt, who served in Dar es Salaam starting in 2009.


Born circa 1959 in Asheville, N.C., Mark Childress earned a B.A. at Yale University and a J.D. at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Law School.


He started his career as a staff attorney at the Department of Agriculture from 1986 to 1989, moving to the Hill to serve as general counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) from 1989 to 1995.


After Democrats lost their Senate majority in the election of 1994, Childress left government to serve as vice president and general counsel for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based nonprofit focused on public health, from 1995 to 1998.


Childress joined the Clinton administration, serving as senior counsel in the White House Counsel’s Office from 1998 to 2000, where he worked on Clinton’s nominations of judges and other officials requiring Senate confirmation. 


He served as chief counsel and policy director for Senator Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) from 2000 to 2004, where he often handled negotiations across the aisle, including helping resolve a stalemate over 25 of President George W. Bush’s stalled judicial nominees.


Leaving Washington again, Childress was chief counsel at the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, an advocacy group for the Aboriginal population in Cairns, Queensland, Australia, from 2004 to 2007, where he negotiated contracts with multinational firms on behalf of Aboriginal landowners.


From 2007 to 2009, he was a partner at Foley Hoag, LLC, practicing in life sciences, energy technology and renewables, as well as performing some lobbying. Among his lobbying clients was the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which would become a part of the contraception debate years later that Childress helped resolve.  


Childress returned to the Senate HELP Committee in April 2009 as a senior advisor on health care reform, and stayed with HELP after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) took over the chairmanship. After Congress finally passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in February 2010, Childress moved on to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in April to oversee implementation of the ACA as acting general counsel. He served as HHS principal deputy general counsel and acting general counsel.


From 2011 to 2012, he served as senior counselor for Access to Justice at the Department of Justice, before moving on to his White House job. In that job, he received plaudits for guiding White House strategy on several politically difficult issues, including the exemption for some religious institutions from the ACA contraception mandate and the executive order to enact some of the ideals of the stalled DREAM act.


A lifelong Democrat, Childress has donated to a select few Democrats in recent years, including donations of $500 to the Democratic National Committee, $500 to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), and smaller donations to Democratic candidates William Cahir, John Oliver and Paul Hodes.


Mark Childress and his wife Katherine, a sometimes lobbyist, have no children and live with their golden retriever named Riley.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Meet The Most Powerful Man In The White House You’ve Never Heard Of (by Evan McMorris-Santoro, BuzzFeed)

Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (pdf)

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