Lina Hidalgo; Adam Kinzinger; Jon Ossoff; Raphael Warnock; Ben Sasse; Nsé Ufot
Sharon Steinmannn—Bloomberg/Getty Images; Jacquelyn Martin—AP; Jessica McGowan—Getty Images; Paras Griffin—Getty Images; Kevin Dietsch—Pool/Getty Images; Lynsey Weatherspoon
February 17, 2021 12:43 PM EST

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When Sen. Ben Sasse got wind that his fellow Republicans were preparing to censure him — again — for not being a stronger apologist for Donald Trump, he didn’t need a pollster or consultant to guide him. Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and one of the most conservative members of the Senate, wouldn’t bend to meet the former President’s whims. Rather than seek forgiveness, Sasse called it exactly as he saw it: party insiders were “hacked off” that he showed an independence from a “cult of personality.”

“As a friend and fellow Republican, I want to shoot straight: I’m not going to spend any time trying to talk you out of another censure. I listen to Nebraskans every day and very few of them are as angry about life as some of the people on this committee. Not all of you. But a lot,” he said in a Feb. 4 video. A little more than a week later, he joined six other GOP Senators to say Trump’s conduct leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot merited a conviction in his impeachment trial.

That sure-footedness and political acumen lands Sasse on this year’s TIME100 Next list. He’s one of nine exceptional political leaders who are breaking into the top echelons of U.S. politics, both here in Washington and in places like Houston and Atlanta.

The list is a nonpartisan affair, highlighting the work of Republicans like Sasse and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, for working to check Trump’s influence on their party, and Parker Poling for pulling off an amazing feat when not a single Republican seeking re-election to the House last year lost. Brian Hooks is spending hundreds of millions of dollars — much of it rounded up by billionaire Charles Koch — to change the country, including reforming the criminal justice system.

At the same time, newly elected Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff delivered the Democrats their effective majority in the Upper Chamber. Nsé Ufot and her effort to register voters in Georgia arguably helped the Georgia Senators do that. Jake Sullivan is coordinating U.S. foreign policy from a corner office in the West Wing. And Lina Hidalgo is running the third-largest county in America at age 29.

And that’s why this enterprise isn’t just another list of folks under a certain age who are enjoying their privilege. Sure, Sasse’s PhD from Yale helps, and Ossoff’s graduate work at the London School of Economics doesn’t hurt. But the pedigree of the folks who make this list matter less than a shared experience and a unique character. Washington can be a lonely place at the top, and these climbers are coming up together, resting on their excellence and latent potential. They’ll never miss a chance for a win. But they also know memories in Washington are long, ambition without achievement is a lethal combination, and it’s always a smart idea to have the number of someone you trust at the ready.

Coming up with this list, now in its third year, is as much about the individuals we honor as it is about the writers, as curated by TIME100 Editorial Director Dan Macsai. Like the TIME100, this kid brother makes a point about bringing together curious pairings. Pricilla Chan writing about Hooks? Why not? Madeleine Albright writing about Sullivan, the National Security Adviser who is in the role she once worked for? Gold. Sen. Mitt Romney — a former Governor, presidential nominee and credible #NeverTrump leader — writing about Sasse? Absolutely.

Washington is a Byzantine place, where protocol and permission dictate so much. The TIME100 Next is as much a celebration of that formality as a hint at who might shake it up in years to come. If politics had a futures desk, this might be a good place to start reading as they place their bets in coming years.

Readers of this newsletter know I’m not one to clog your inboxes with shameless plugs for TIME projects. In fact, on most days, I’m sending you to our competition. But on this one, trust me: the list is worth considering. If nothing else, you’re going to look smart at the next Zoom dinner party when a guest drops the name of someone who is shaping our politics and is just starting to break through outside the Beltway.

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