Born to Muslim parents in the U.S. on April 29, 1970, Nadeam Elshami spent his early childhood in Egypt before returning to his native country permanently in 1982, settling with his family in Nashville, Tennessee. When he enrolled at the University of Evansville (Indiana) in 1987, Elshami considered himself a Republican. That same year, he began dating a young woman named Stacey, who would later become his wife, and whom he credits for having altered his political views dramatically. “That was her doing; she was a true Democrat,” Elshami reflects. “And I thank her for that every day.” After earning a B.A. in international business in 1991, Elshami moved back to Nashville where he took a job as a waiter. Soon thereafter, Stacey was hired as a special-education teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland—just outside of Washington, DC—and Elshami moved there with her.
Before long, Elshami found employment on Capitol Hill, in the Senate mail room. He also interned for Rep. Bob Clement (D-Tennessee) and Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D-Pennsylvania). In 1994 he began working for Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), eventually becoming her deputy press secretary and deputy communications director.
In 1999 Elshami was hired as press secretary and deputy chief of staff for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), of whom he has said: “I was really impressed with her values and what she stood for.” He continued to work for Schakowsky until 2005.
In 2004 Elshami took a few months leave from his job in order to work on the “Up for Victory” campaign, whose goal, as Elshami puts it, was “making sure that what happened in 2000 doesn’t occur again”—a reference to independent candidate Ralph Nader running for president and siphoning votes away from Democrat Al Gore, thereby helping George W. Bush win the election.
In 2005 Elshami was hired as national press secretary by then-Senate minority whip Richard Durbin (D-Illinois). The following year, he became Durbin’s deputy communications director.
In 2007 Elshami became deputy communications director for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California). He recalls with particular fondness the day the Supreme Court ruled that the Democrats’ new healthcare law (“Obamacare”) was constitutional: “[Pelosi] went into her office and stared at the TVs, and she had that look and that just amazing smile on her face, and to me, that was vindication. That was worth it, for everything we did. It was vindication for the policy. It was something that Democrats have worked [for] for years.” When Pelosi in 2011 shifted roles, from House Speaker to minority leader, Elshami became her communications director and senior advisor.
In January 2013, Pelosi named Elshami as her chief of staff. “Our goal is to find solutions to the problems facing the American people, but also we’re committed to winning back the House,” Elshami said at that time. Further, he derided Republicans for habitually choosing “to fight right away instead of getting to work with us [Democrats].”
Elshami’s mother, Zainab Elberry, is a Tennessee-based Muslim activist affiliated with the Arab American Institute. She lobbied for construction of a mega-mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which many local residents feared would become a breeding ground for radicalism. Elberry also supported the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a dependable U.S. ally, from Egypt in 2011. And she helped organize the Islamic Center of Nashville, which has been accused of promoting Islamic radicalism.