WASHINGTON — History of sorts was in the making Nov. 30 when Raj Shah, who holds a key position in the White House, gaggled with reporters on board presidential chopper Air Force One, becoming the first Indian American to enjoy the privilege.
Shah, 33, did so in the capacity of Principal Deputy Press Secretary, a position to which he was promoted by President Donald Trump in September as he restructured his press office by making Hope Hicks Director of Communications.
Shah was accompanying Trump as he flew to Missouri to deliver a major speech on middle-class tax relief and business tax relief.
Mid-way to St Louis, Shah, the highest ranking Indian American ever in the White House press office, gaggled with the traveling press corp. Gaggle is the term used for an informal briefing by the White House press secretary, which is on the record but bars reporters from videographing.
"We're looking forward to the president's remarks later today. It will be in St. Charles, talking about the need for middle-class tax relief and business tax relief," Shah said in his opening remarks.
"The focus of today's remarks are going to be on small businesses. He's going to feature two specific small businesses. One is a local small business incubator, and the other is a jewelry business — they're a retail business that also wholesales to about two and a half dozen different retailers throughout the country," he said.
"So we're very excited about these remarks, and we're excited about the developments on pushing tax reform and tax cuts. And the president is going to make a push for 'Yea' votes," Shah said after which he took questions from the White House traveling press. The questions ranged from the president's controversial tweets, to North Korea, and tax cuts. The gaggle lasted for about 12 minutes.
Shah was born in 1984 to Indian parents of Gujarati origin. Shah's parents moved to Chicago in 1970s and then moved to Connecticut where he was born and raised.
His father was a mechanical engineer, but later moved into business and owned retail stores. His mother was a dentist. Both are now leading a retired life. After his schooling in Connecticut, Shah went to Cornell University.
It is during his college days that he became politically active. Not as a Republican though.
"I actually interned for a Democrat when I was in college," he says. He became a Republican as he learned more and more into issues. He in fact interned in the Bush White House in the Summer of 2005.
And just out of college, he got a job in the research wing of the Republican National Committee and since there has been no looking back for him.
Shah joined the White House right from the day the Trump administration took charge. He was made the deputy communications director and research director at the White House. Previously, he was director of Opposition Research in the Republican National Committee.
"It's awesome. This is a lot of fun to represent the president, to represent his views not just to a domestic and international audience. What I did earlier was a little bit about developing our message. This is about delivering the message," he told a group of Indian journalists recently.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had listed Shah among the top Indian American performers working under the Trump administration.
"We are seeing more political activity by Indian Americans on both sides of the aisle. We are proud to watch the work of Raj Shah, Manisha Singh, Neil Chatterjee, Naomi Rao, Vishal Amin, among others, that are all part of the Trump administration," said Haley, the first Indian American woman appointed to a cabinet-level position in the U.S.