Three former White House chiefs of staff discussed the challenges associated with managing White House staff, the unique partnership between the President and his top adviser, and disorganization in the Trump White House at the Institute of Politics Tuesday night.
The panel included Denis R. McDonough, Andrew H. Card Jr., and Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty III, chiefs of staff to former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, respectively, and was moderated by Chris Whipple, author of the New York Times best-selling book The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.
Whipple began the event by asking the speakers to describe their job for the audience but soon transitioned to a discussion of the Trump administration, beginning with the “doomed” tenure of President Donald Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who left the White House in July after just six months.
“The responsibility of the chief of staff is such that you have to have a unique relationship with the President to do your job, and you have to be empowered by the President to do the job,” Card said, who added that Trump did not support Priebus in this way.
Card said it was difficult for Priebus to “introduce discipline to the White House when the President wasn’t practicing any discipline himself.”
Whipple then turned to the current state of the Trump administration, posing the question of effective governance under circumstances far outside the norm.
“This is a big challenge for the country,” McDonough replied. “There is very little muscle memory in Congress on how to get things done. They just forget how to do big, hard things.”
McLarty contrasted President Trump’s failure to enact his agenda with President Clinton’s early success.
“Good policy is generally good politics, and it certainly served President Clinton well that first year,” McLarty said.
Whipple also raised the preponderance of leaks coming out of the Trump Administration, asking the panelists how they managed to keep information inside the White House.
“People need to feel comfortable vetting their frustrations inside the White House instead of taking them outside,” Card said. “It eventually comes down to respect for your colleagues.”
McLarty said that in his tenure, he emphasized “the importance of staying focused on what we’re trying to do in the White House and not on scandal.”
In an interview after the event, Card said he encouraged Harvard students to get involved in politics instead of revelling in their cynicism.
“This administration is unprecedented in some ways in its contempt for Democratic institutions, in its assault on the judiciary, on the press, but the answer to that is to defend Democratic institutions,” Card said. “You have to get involved, you have to vote, you can’t opt out.”
—Staff writer Anna M. Kuritzkes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AnnaKuritzkes.
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