She’s guided the Senate through two impeachment trials, vexed Democrats and Republicans alike with parliamentary opinions and helped rescue Electoral College certificates from a pro-Trump mob ransacking the Capitol. She also does spot-on impersonations of senators including Bernie Sanders.

Elizabeth MacDonough, an English literature major and the Senate’s first woman parliamentarian, is about to demonstrate anew why she’s one of Washington’s most potent, respected yet obscure figures. Any day, she’s expected to reveal if she thinks a federal minimum wage boost, progressives’ most prized plank in Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, should fall from the bill.

Her decision, a political minefield likely to elicit groans from whichever side she disappoints, will play an outsized role in deciding the wage increase’s fate. It may not be definitive — majority Democrats might try overriding an opinion they don’t like.

“Elizabeth has a soul-crushing job, to which she brings an enormous amount of soul,” said her predecessor, Alan Frumin, whom she replaced when he retired in 2012.

Part of MacDonough’s job, in which she’s supposed to be nonpartisan, is enduring high-stakes lobbying from both parties when she’s making pivotal decisions. But she’s found a home in the Capitol, where she’s spent most of the past three decades after starting as an assistant Senate librarian in 1990. “She knows the names of every police officer and janitor,” Frumin said.

Sometimes, the pressure can be extraordinary. Frumin said that when the Senate was enacting former President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law — which was opposed by Republicans and infuriated grassroots tea party conservatives — he had police protection at his home as a precaution. “And the political climate hasn’t gotten friendlier,” he said.

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Even so, MacDonough, 55, has garnered high marks from both parties. Underscoring that, while she was initially appointed in 2012 by Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate majority leader at the time, she was retained by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., when he became majority leader in 2015.

“She’s very solid. She listens to all the evidence,” Sanders, the independent Vermont senator and chief sponsor of the minimum wage proposal, said in a recent interview.

“She is a brilliant lawyer, a thorough and fair referee and a walking encyclopedia of Senate precedent and procedure,” McConnell spokesman David Popp said Tuesday.

She’s also used the time to hone an ability to replicate the voices and cadence of several senators including Sanders, associates say.

MacDonough’s earned her reputation for fairness while helping steer the Senate through some of its highest-profile moments. Rulings she issued striking anti-abortion and other provisions from numerous failed GOP attempts to repeal Obama’s health care law weakened their bills.

She helped Chief Justice John Roberts preside over then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 Senate impeachment trial, and was beside Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for Trump’s second trial this month. Trump was acquitted both times.

And as Trump supporters fought past police and into the Capitol last month in hopes of disrupting Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, MacDonough and other staffers rescued those ballots …read more

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