Printer Friendly

Tales from the top; inside the White House with eight former presidential aides.

TALES FROM THE TOP

Last year, eight former senior member ofthe White House staff met at the University of California to discuss the last 25 years of the presidency.

The panel included General Andrew Goodpaster,from Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration; Theodore Sorensen, from John F. Kennedy's; Harry McPherson, from Lyndon Johnson's; H.R. Haldeman and Alexander Haig from Richard Nixon's; Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney, from Gerald Ford's; and Jack Watson, from Jimmy Carter's.

Questioners included John Chancellor, DavidBroder, Samuel Popkin and Larry Berman, professors of political science, and Doug Newhart, a student.

John Chancellor: Presidents are human. Presidentsmake mistakes. Sometimes presidents want to do damn fool things they have to be talked out of, and so my question to all of you to begin this panel today is: How do you talk a president out of a damn fool idea?

Harry McPherson: Well, very gingerly--if yourpresident is Lyndon Johnson.

Donald Rumsfeld: I can recall President Fordmeeting privately with one of his senior officials in the administration and, in effect, coming away with an

agreement that he would put forward to the Congress a proposal which had not been staffed out at all and which, in my view, was not very wise--and that is a massive understatement. The way it was finally accomplished was simply by staffing it out. In other words, taking this idea and putting it into the staff system--the people that he had hired and brought aboard, who in some cases had statutory authority over that area of government--and letting them then provide their advice and allowing some time so that he could have the benefit of their views.

Chancellor: Isn't that called stalling?

Rumsfeld: No. I would call it professional staffwork. But sometimes it takes very, very long.

Richard Cheney: The biggest problem was thedecision that didn't receive attention. It wasn't so much a matter of his making a damn fool decision . . . as it was his making some kind of offhand decision that hadn't been carefully thought about, and then people took it and ran with it. It's what I called an "oh, by the way" decision.

It was the kind of thing that would happenwhen somebody was cleared to go into the Oval Office, a cabinet member, to talk about a subject; the president was prepared. They had their discussion, and as the cabinet member was leaving, he'd turn around and he'd say, "Oh, by the way, Mr. President," and then bring up a totally unrelated subject, get a decision on it, and run with it. That's when you really got into big trouble.

Chancellor: Mr. Haldeman, it has been writtenthat when President Nixon would give you certain kinds of instructions, you'd say "Yes, sir," and then go off and start a process which didn't always result in that action being taken . . . . Wasn't there one time when he said to you, "Bob, you never did that, did you?" and you said, "No, sir, I didn't"?

H. R. Haldeman: Yes, there was. And it's interestingbecause it's been repeated not too far back in time now. I was ordered by the president unequivocally and immediately to commense lie detector tests of every employee of the State Department because there had been a series of leaks which were seriously damaging our negotiations in Vietnam. The order to solve the problem was that every member of the State Department staff worldwide was to be submitted immediately to lie detector tests. That was an easy order not to carry out because it was physically impossible to do. But we didn't do it, and the president said the next day, "Have you gotten a lie detector program started?" And I said no, and he said, "Aren't you going to?" And I said, "I don't intend to," and he ordered that it be done.

I again didn't do it on the first round that time,then went back to him later that day, and after that time--Al is smirking over here, because Haig remebers this perhaps more vividly than I do--I went back and said, "Mr. President, this really is a mistake. There are other ways of dealing with this problem at this point, and we will be back to you with a plan for doing that." We came back in a few days with a plan, and he said at that point, "I didn't think you would do it."

Chancellor: General Goodpaster, you worked forPresident Eisenhower. Did you ever have a comparable experience with him?

General Andrew Goodpaster: Somewhat comparable,I think. He came over one morning rather exasperated and said, "I've said that I want to start reducing our forces in Europe. You know that's our policy, and I want action to be initiated on that." I said, "Well, Mr. President, it isn't quite our policy."

"What do you mean?"

I said, "Well, that's the goal that's stated--towork down to the long-term strength--but it's conditioned on the ability of the Europeans to fill the gap that's there, the gap we created."

"No," he said, "that's not right. Our policy isto make that reduction and I want to get that started."

I said, "Well, Mr. President, that really isn'tthe policy. It's conditioned in this way." He glared at me, and he said, "I've got Foster Dulles coming over here today, and I'm going to have him straighten you out on this."

Well, I didn't say a word to Secretary Dulleswhen he came over. We went in together, and the president looked up and he said, "Foster, I want you to straighten Andy out on this once and for all. It is our policy to reduce those forces in Europe." And Foster Dulles, bless him, said, "Well, Mr. President, it isn't quite that clear. We always have put that condition on it, that the Europeans have to be able to fill that gap." The president looked up at Foster Dulles and he said, "Foster, I've lost my last friend."

Chancellor: Mr. Sorensen, did you ever go in toPresident Kennedy and say, "This idea that you are ciculating is a bad one"?

Theodore Sorensen: The short way was to say,"That sounds like something Dick Nixon would have suggested."

Chancellor: I'd like to ask you all now to moveon to something that is more serious: crisis management. All of you have been there at the center of the storm when either domestic or international crises have come. In rading your biographies, I found a wide range of moments when your stomachs must have churned, when you must have been scared.

Cheney: I think there's a tendency--at least ourexperience was, thinking back on it now--that oftentimes when these crises develop, that you end up sucking decisions into the White House that perhaps ought to be made someplace else.

Alexander Haig: The most important thing, Ithink, is the evolution of technology and its impact on crisis management. I think at the Gulf of Tonkin, President Johnson was engaged much too early, when we had just very fuzzy intelligence reports.

Cheney: The technology now makes it possiblefor the president to make a decision in a case involving military force that really ought to be made maybe by the commander of the aircraft carrier [as] in the Tonkin Gulf or, in the case of the Mayaguez, off Cambodia. And the decision actually goes all the way up the chain, not only to CINCPAC [Commander-in-chief, Pacific] in Hawaii and the secretary of defense and the NSC, but ultimately ends up on the president's desk, and he makes a relatively small decision that can have an enormous impact upon how he's perceived, and really should have been done by somebody else.

Sorensen: On the other hand, presidents alsosometimes reach out for decisions that they don't have to reach out for because they deliberately want to be involved. President Kennedy remarked often that he was damned if the question of war with the Soviet Union over Berlin was going to be decided by some sergeant on the border making a decision with respect to a tank or troop movement. He personally monitored the conduct of our armed forces during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it turned out it was a good thing he did because he and the chief of naval operations had a very fundamental difference, one on which a war might have hung in the balance.

McPherson: President Johnson wanted to becalled every time something happened in the Vietnam war era. He said, "I'm sure that some day, my luck being what it is, a guy is going to call me from the NSC staff at three in the morning and tell me that a navy pilot has dropped a bomb down the smokestack of a Russian freighter sitting in Hanoi Harbor. And that navy pilot would have been born and raised in Johnson City, Texas." He really wanted to know the particulars.

And my generalization is that perhapsDemocratic presidents, being more government-oriented, being more oriented toward the use of government than the Republican presidents we have had in the last 25 years, that is, shaping government, starting these big programs that everybody sooner or later wrings their hands over and so on--Democrats are likely to be involved. They are likely to be wanting to get their hands on the throttles, whereas the successful Republican presidents in the polls, Eisenhower and Reagan, particularly, have been much more inclined to sit back and let the staff deal with it until some moment at which they can speak, rather, from the mountaintop.

Goodpaster: Eisenhower had a saying that heused a number of times. He said, "Now boys, let's not make our mistakes in a hurry."

One of the great moments, going back to theinitial question, was when he would propose something and be a little assertive and anxious to get on with it. I recall on occasion telling him, "Mr. President, I've heard a wonderful saying, I don't recall where it came from, but 'Let's not make our mistakes in a hurry.'" And he would take that well.

Sorensen: I think that everyone up here couldtestify to one important lesson a president learns about crisis management in the course of his presidency, and that is who should be in the room. Our first crisis involving Cuba was the Bay of Pigs, and that was a fiasco handled badly from beginning to end. The president, regarding that crisis, met with a very small group because of their office. He hardly knew them, having just begun the presidency. Communication was bad; turned out the advice and the planning were bad.

Chancellor: Wasn't there a point [during theCuban Missile Crisis] at which someone asked the president to leave the Excom meetings because his presence there was inhibiting debate?

Sorensen: That is correct. We had a series ofmeeting all during that week, and the president felt it important to keep up his normal schedule so that there would be no leak to the Soviets that we were aware of the missiles in Cuba. When he came back from one of those meetings, having been away, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and I said to him, "To tell you the truth, in one sense, the meetings went very well without you. The subordinates are more willing to contradict their superiors when you are not there. An under secretary of state or assistant secretary of state will never contradict the secretary in front of you, but they did it very frankly when you were gone." The president said, "I think I'll stay away from some more meetings."

Haldeman: We had one major decision whichrelated to the Hanoi bombing activity and mining of Haiphong. That was believed to be in danger of impinging upon the president's planned visit to the Soviet Union. There was a substantial difference within the very highest levels of the president's advisers, and this was a totally secret activity.

Chancellor: The mining was, what, four weeksbefore the visit? Everybody was writing, everybody must have been telling you, "Well, the Russians will disinvite him."

Haldeman: Yes. In the infinite wisdom of thepress commentators--the infinite wisdom was that the president had done a stupid thing and hadn't even thought about the fact that the mining might impinge upon the Soviet trip, which, of course, was the overriding consideration that had been--

Haig: And only one or two people told PresidentNixon that the Russians wanted the summit so badly that they would go ahead regardless of what he did. That was the lesson we all should have absorbed at the time anyway. So it was his decision against a very strong consensus not to put the summit in jeopardy that I think ultimately brought that war to a conclusion, which ultimately--

Chancellor: Are there dynamics within certaindecisions that require, even if the rest of the world knows, that you can't tell the Americans?

Haig: Are there things that presidents must keepsecret? And the answer to that is: of course. One of the greatest examples in the Nixon administration was the initiative toward the People's Republic of China. Had the president shared with the Congress and the American people the fact that a dialogue had begun, a very tentative one, with Beijing, I can assure you the opposition on the Hill would have been so vehement that there never would have been an opening to the People's Republic of China.

Chancellor: Was [the Pueblo] in your mind whenyou people were dealing with the Mayaguez?

Rumsfeld: There's no question.

Chancellor: How about the technology? Howabout your intelligence? Was it any good?

Rumsfeld: It's funny. It comes in pieces. It's incomplete;it's inadequate. In this case, it came through a civilian merchant shipping line that heard some radio call. That was the first news, and, of course, it was a part of the world where we have very few military assets. It was a very difficult situation.

Now, you asked about technology. In fact,there was a time when the president of the United States was in the Cabinet Room...with the National Security Council, and he was receiving reports from the next room that were the actual words of the pilot who was flying over the Mayaguez and over the straits and over a boat that was taking people from the island to the mainland.

And he gets down over this boat that's chuggingfrom the island to the mainland, and he says, "I see people on there." And the next thing you hear is him saying, "They look like Caucasians, and they are halfway to the shore." And then everyone looks at the president. He eventually is going to say to somebody, "Stop it, sink it, don't let them get there. Don't sink it. You'll kill them if it is. Are you sure?" It's goofy the way technology has put a president in that position.

Cheney: It also has a depressing effect upon theinitiative of all those people in the organization between the president and that pilot out there over the ocean. You've got four-star generals and admirals and people who have spent their entire lives dealing with these kinds of forces, and all of a sudden, you've placed the emphasis upon them passing the buck up the chain. Nobody is willing to take responsibility for making a decision that under other circumstances they would. But it ends up right smack on the president's desk, and he ultimately is going to have to make that decision about whether or not the pilot goes forward and sinks the boat. In this case, President Ford made the decision to let the boat proceed. Turned out to be the right decision, but it was basically just dumb luck.

Jack Watson: In terms of organization, if I hadto change one thing--and this seems to be a problem that almost every president, though not President Eisenhower, suffers from. They go in with an idea that they are going to have a spokes-of-the-wheel staff. There's going to be equal access.... He's going to have X number of advisers, six or eight or ten. And because they are all important to him and his friends and counselors and people whose judgment and loyalty he trusts and values, he wants all of them reporting directly to him. He's the hub. That is a fatal mistake. The White House can't operate that way. It pulls the president into too much; he's involved in too many things.

It also results in a lack of cohesion, a lack oforganization and cutting in on decision-making before it reaches the presidential level. That was, in my judgment, a mistake that President Carter made in the first two years of his administration. He didn't actually appoint a chief of staff until late in the summer of 1979. I think that many of our problems on the Hill, many of our congressional relationships, difficulties, who's speaking for the president, would have been solved had we started from the very beginning with a strong chief of staff.

McPherson: Really? You mean you would havehad a Don Regan in the Carter White House? That kind of an operation?

Watson: No. It's a fair question, Harry, and I'mnot necessarily saying that. We were reacting...to at least a public perception that there had been a kind of palace guard, to quote a colleague of yours, and that there hadn't been a free flow of diverse ideas and information to the president, that it had been too rigidly controlled, too tight a ship. So part of what we were doing was a reaction against that. As is true of so many things, our pendulum swung too far in the other direction.

The way a White House chief of staff performshis or her function is in itself going to depend on the individual. I think that the way that Jim Baker, to use recent history, performed his role as White House chief of staff for Mr. Reagan, under an organization which was exactly as I'm describing, was very different than the way that Don Regan perform[ed] the same role with the same structure. You cannot eliminate or ignore the personal touch of how a particular individual performs a particular job. But, Harry, my answer to your question is yes, I am suggesting a strong, trusted, even-handed White House chief of staff.

McPherson: This whole "spokes of the wheel"business, the whole approach to the president's business, is about information. Our president, unlike the general secretary of the Soviet Union or, well, I guess, a lot of other leaders in the world, does not have an intelligence network throughout the country. He doesn't have, whatever you might think, the FBI doing that. How does he find out what's going on in the country? How does he get a sense of what's important and how does he get a sense of whom to listen to?

Chancellor: But he used you as an agent.

McPherson: That's why he has a staff aroundhim of people who have big ears and listen and meet with people all the time and will send him memoranda and will talk to him on the phone and tell him what they think is going on.

Johnson, in the evening, would have a navy guycome in and give him a rubdown and then he'd start reading about 150 memoranda. At the bottom, he would write either yes, no, see me, or something or other. Well, every now and then, this would get to be too much for him. So he decided to have a chief of staff, and he picked Bob Kintner, who had been the NBC chairman and had lost his job. He was an old friend of Johnson, and Johnson thought he world of him. Bob didn't really have a function around the White House for a while. It just coincided that Johnson got tired of reading all these memoranda, and Kintner said, "Why don't I be chief of staff?" So Johnson said fine. He was formerly a network chief of staff. "We will make you the boss."

Well, none of us believed it. We just sent stuffto Johnson as always. Kintner got mad and asked that they all be sent to him. Johnson said, "Well, okay. Send them through Kintner first." We did that. Lasted about two days. Kntner stopped something. I don't know what it was , some minor piece of business. Johnson got furious and that was the end of Kintner.

Ted Sorensen is quite right, and Don is quiteright talking about the nature of the fellow, the kind of man he is. It would have been inconceivable to imagine Lyndon Johnson as a Harvard Business School CEO coming in--imagine Lyndon Johnson with a computer, with his PC. Inconceivable. On the other hand, he had something that many presidents, many CEOs don't have. Outside of being the smartest man I've ever known, he had 25 or 30 years of profound and far-reaching political connections in Washington, which even the smartest president, maybe in just sheer IQ points, Jimmy Carter, did not have.

In 1977, Carter developed that great energyprogram and tried to put it into effect. When Carter explained it, a Republican congressman whom I respected a lot came back from a meeting up there and said, "That fellow really knows everything about his energy program. Taxes, all of it. He didn't have to call on the secretary of the treasury or energy or any of them. He could do it all." I was bowled over and I said, "Is he going to get it through?" And he said, "I don't know." Having agents throughout the system who want to help you out becomes a very essential part and a non-organizational part of a successful presidency.

Watson: There ar about 1,500 people in the Officeof Management and Budget, which is part of the executive office of the president. The White House staff is about 350 or less, generally speaking, and is just one of the components of the executive office.

What runs the numbers of presidential staffersup higher are the Council of Economic Advisers, the Council on Environmental Quality, and other such groups that are in the executive office.

Haig: The simple facts are that this horrendousgrowth in the White House staff has been paralleled by an even more horrendous growth in the congressional staffs, where today I think you are looking at a figure of about 20,000. A White House has to respond to that behemoth, and therefore it's a natural contributor to this growth.

The other gimmick, which Bob Haldeman willremember, is that administrations that want to show they are lean and mean merely keep the fellows they have but charge them to the departments. It's nicer anyway, because the department has to pay and those fellows are counted on the department's books and not counted by the White House press who are looking for this growth.

I share Don Rumsfeld's view very, veryvigorously. The leaner and meaner you are, the more effective your White House will be.

Watson: I'll make a suggestion, as a generalproposition--and we were victims of this, so I'm speaking out of bitter experience here. There began a tendency, I suspect under President Johnson, but we took it to its full flower, of bringing into the White House what's called a special assistant to the president for Hispanic affairs, for women's affairs, for consumer affairs, for elderly affairs, for minority affairs. Please, don't misunderstand my point, I'm not saying that the president and the policies that the president endorses and promotes from the White House ought not to be sensitive and responsive to that enormously wide array of interests. Those are legitimate interests.

But I do not think you need to have a specialassistant to the president for every legitimate special interest in the country. But for a time there was, though I think it's been cut back now because, in my judgment, it was so clearly the wrong way to go. There was a tendency between 1965, I'd say, and 1980 for that to happen more and more, and that's one of the things that made the White House staff grow.

Haig: What's material is who gets in the WhiteHouse Mess, who gets a parking place. If you have been involved in the bureaucratic in-fighting, try to decide that.

Sorensen: More important than who gets a WhiteHouse parking permit or who eats in the White House Mess is who is able to invoke the president's name, who is using the president's telephone, and who is using the president's stationery. That's serious. If you have hundreds of people doing that, there is no way you can keep them out of mischief.

I have hanging on my wall a picture whichshows a dozen individuals, roughly a dozen, standing on the back steps of the White House. That was the senior professional staff, the professional staff of the White House at that time. A couple of them, I'm not quite sure what they did, to tell you the truth. To have a similar group picture now, you would need Yankee Stadium. That's because we have people in the White House who are operating and administering programs without ever having been confirmed by the Senate. It's because we have people in the White House, as Jack Watson ways, who aren't there representing the president to the country. They are representing the country to the president. That's not what the White House staff should be.

Rumsfeld: I want to add something that I thinkhits something quite important about the problem of the president. President Kennedy was concerned about poverty. As I recall, he formed the Committee on Juvenile Delinquency. Pretty soon, in the executive office of the president under Lyndon Johnson came the Office of Economic Opportunity, which Sargent Shriver ran, and whom I succeeded. Now here you have two or three thousand employees in the executive office of the president in an operating agency that doesn't belong there.

The reason President Johnson did it was notbecause he was stupid or a bad manager. He did it because President Kennedy was assassinated. He did it because the department's agencies weren't doing things the way he wanted, so he decided he had to have it in the White House.

Same thing with President Nixon. He was concernedabout the drug problem. What's he do? Special office for drug abuse, and the next thing you know, you have a whole bunch of people to deal with, a whole bunch of employees, and pretty soon, they are operating programs. Now that's, in fact, bad management.

The answer is not to substitute and layer in theWhite House. The answer is to make the departments and agencies do that which you believe they ought to be doing. It's a lot harder, takes more time, and it takes ultimately some cooperation with the Congress, but in the last analysis, we would just sink if we kept adding special offices in the executive office of the president, even for good reason.

Larry Berman: Over the last 30 years the swellingof the White House staff has been at the cost of cabinet government. As I understand it, General Haig, when you were secretary of state, the frustration seemed quite different from when you worked in the White House.

Haig: Having come from the White House staff,I was very sensitive to the tendency for the White House staff to assume authority and responsibility which, by the confirmation process, belongs quite rightly in the hands of the cabinet officers and the cabinet departments. It is a very, very dangerous, pernicious reality today. I think here, again, however, it depends on the president and what he wishes.

Haldeman: I've seen it only from the WhiteHouse side, and I completely agree with Al, and I completely agree that the White house staff should be an operational unit, not a policy-making or policy-executing unit. It should be there to assist the president in the management of the executive branch and in the office of the president, and it should exist at and operate at the will and direction of the president. I think it's imperative that that be the case and it's essential, in order to do that, that virtually all the staff members, except perhaps the press secretary and one or two other designated spokesmen, be people with a "passion for anonymity."

Goodpaster: I don't think it's all that difficult,because I saw President Eisenhower, in fact, operate along these lines. I remember a very sharp question that he addressed to members of the staff on occasion, or a comment, and it ran like this, "Now, wait a minute, boys. That's not a staff matter. That's a policy matter, and if I'm going to consider that, I want the secretary of state here. I want the cabinet to consider that. I want the NSC to consider it." That was part of his process of pushing operational decisions to the operating departments and agencies where he thought they belonged. So I think it can be done.

Rumsfeld: I think the phrase "cabinet government"is not a good one because it leaves people with the impression that it's possible today to allow cabinet officers to proceed semi-independently in their respective areas of jurisdiction. The way our world works, it's rare when you find an issue that is the jurisdiction of only one cabinet officer.

Take a grain embargo with Poland for example. Imposingan embargo or terminating one obviously is a foreign policy issue. It may very well be a Defense Department issue. It's clearly a Treasury issue on the balance of payments. It may be a Department of Labor issue because in some cases the unions have refused to load. It's obviously a congressional issue. It's certainly going to be a press issue. You have all these threads, and the White House staff's function is to see that those threads get through the needle's eye in a reasonably coheren way. The staff's job is not to make the decisions, but by the same token, the staff has to avoid letting the president be blinsided by allowing a single cabinet officer to go out and make a decision like that.

McPherson: Which is why you need a substantialWhite House staff. That's why it developed. It didn't happen just because some megalomaniac like Lyndon Johnson said, "Let's add them all up." It didn't happen that way at all.

These interdepartmental committees, the Officeof Economic Opportunity, which was put in the White House staff for a very long time, didn't happen just because Johnson thought that was a swell idea, getting kind of bored with cabinet government and that sort of thing. It happened because the whole notion of a broad-scale attack on poverty involved education, employment, and training of all kinds, juvenile delinquency prevention, and so on. Everybody with a little fiefdom out there, all the GS-15s and 16s, and maybe the politicians who got appointed to be cabinet officers, wanted to have their own ballgame. And if you wanted all of it to cohere, you had to put somebody above it.

You have a cabinet meeting, and I've tried tothink, ever since I observed them, how to hold a good one. Say you've got a grain embargo issue, or let's say you have an issue on the farm bill or an issue on Vietnam or whatever. Let's say it's Vietnam, and you turn to the secretary of interior and you say, "Stu Udall, what do you think about it?"

"Well , you know, I've been thinking about theNational Park Service, not about Vietnam."

"Dean Rusk, what do you think about the ParkService?" But he hasn't been thinking about parks at all.

Sorensen: The most controversial issue in WhiteHouse staffing is the role of the national security adviser. If there's been a subject that has caused fights in Washington over the last two dozen years, it has been the question of whether there should be one and what his role should be. Let me give some quick yes-or-no answers. Should there be a national security adviser to the president even though we have secretaries of state and defense? Yes. Should he make policy to the extent, say, that Henry Kissinger did when Bill Rogers was secretary of state? No. Should he be making declarations of national policy the way Brzezinski did when Vance was secretary of state? No. Should he and his staff be conducting operations the way the present national security staff has conducted operations in Nicaragua? No.

Rumsfeld: I quite agree, you have to have a nationalsecurity adviser to bring those threads up between the CIA and--but I do not think he ought to be making public pronouncements, and I do not think it's the responsibility of White House staff to conduct operations.

Watson: I agree.

Goodpaster: I have to say I agree.

McPherson: I wish I could say otherwise, but Iagree.

Cheney: I would argue, too, that the NSC adviserperforms a very useful role in part because everybody else--with one or two exceptions, the chief of staff and one or two others--everybody in the White House, everybody in the administration, is a specialist. The secretary of state--maybe Al would disagree with me--the secretary of state has parochial interests. He looks at the globe and looks at it from the standpoint of State, not Civil Defense, or CIA, or one of the other agencies.

The national security adviser is in a positionto bring to all the internal debate and controversy that's bound to reign between those departments the kind of a broad, generalist view that only the president shares, and it is vital to have.

Haig: I agree with all the observations that havebeen made, but I do make a point that it can work either way. If the president decides he wants a national security adviser to be the focal point of our national security policy, then it will work. I would prefer that it not be that way. He can pick the doorman at the White House, as a matter of fact. Jack Kennedy, to a large extent, gave his brother, the attorney general of the United States, amazing authority to coordinate the conduct of foreign policy.

Doug Newhart: How much influence do youbelieve your personal opinions had on the president, especially in policy decision-making in urgent matters where he doesn't have a lot of time or a lot of people to consult? Also, what's your criteria for limiting information that reaches the president?

Cheney: That's a key point. I think the key thingis to separate out the two roles. Oftentimes, I think when you sit outside the White House, you assume the chief of staff is sitting there making these decisions to sort of keep information away from the president. That doesn't happen. You carry a lot of information in to them. You may carry in a package of memos that he will read before he vetoes or signs a bill, before he makes a key decision. He will often ask you what you think on that issue and you tell him. But you make certain he understands when you are giving him your own opinion and when you are passing on the opinions of those in the administration with whom he wants to consult before he makes a decision.

I don't think you have a situation where a chiefof staff survives very long if he, in effect, warps the flow of information to suit his own bias with respect to policy. Then he's not serving the interest of the president. It's very easily found out after two or three times, and it seems to me that anybody who did that would quickly find himself going down the road.

David Broder: To be candid, I was somewhatskeptical about some of the denial that I thought I was hearing yesterday. I looked around that semicircle and I saw some people who, in other times, in other places, had discussed in guarded terms the political plots in which they were engaged, plots against Congress to get it to do what they wanted it to do, plots against the cabinet, corporate or individual, to thwart some of their goals or help them carry them forward, plots against the bureaucracy, constant efforts to try to get them to behave, and from time to time, plots against the president himself to get him to do or not do something that those staff people thought he should or should not be doing. I didn't hear very many people acknowledging that it was really a political function that they were playing in the White House staff. I'd like to know about how you folks dealt with the strong cabinet members in your time. I'd like to know whether you would really maintain that you were simply honest brokers when it came to carrying forward the wishes of weak cabinet members.

Cheney: I can't count the number of times Iwould get a phone call, probably about once a month, and it would be a situation in which Pat Moynihan was calling threatening to resign or Henry Kissinger was threatening to resign because they didn't like each other. Of course, Pat was ambassador to the UN and Henry was at State.

I remember the bicentennial celebration at theHouse of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia. The president was delivering a major address where Patrick Henry had spoken 200 years before, and I was in the closet upstairs on the White House telephone with Pat Moynihan trying one more time to keep Pat from resigning because Henry had said something about him that had been printed in Scotty Reston's column. I think all of us had that experience at one time or another, probably all with Moynihan.

Samuel Popkin: What were you allowed to do forPat? Give him a ride on Air Force One, use of the White House Mess, I mean, tennis lessons? What would you do for him?

Cheney: Sometimes it would be a matter of "it'stime for a little presidential stroking," okay? You're going to have a cabinet meeting next week. You say, "Pat, the president would like to see you afterwards," and you get him in for a 15- or 20-minute chat in the Oval Office, and the president tells him how important he is to the policy of his administration. It's that kind of operation more than the byzantine plotting, "Well, let's see. If I go over here and I leak something to Broder and it will run here and this guy will react."

The press has a major weakness: it can't coververy effectively policy differences. it's very easy to cover personality conflicts, which you guys are guilty of all the time. What the press is dealing out all the time is cheapening the dialogue and the debate that takes place over fundamental differences of policy. If you've got a strong secretary of state who wants to go one way and a strong secretary of defense who wants to go the other way, it's reported as a Weinberger-Shultz conflict, instead of an analysis of whatever merit there might be in the two policy positions.

Watson: Let me give a couple of examples, buton the political point, I want to add--and I think this is a paraphrase, not a quote--President Truman said that only a good politician can be a good president, words to that effect. I believe that devoutly. I believe, in fact, that one of Carter's central problems was that in so many key ways, he was not a good politician; I would postulate, a brilliant man, but not a good politician.

Here's an example. One of Carter's greatestweaknesses, I think, which was the flip side of one of his greatest strengths, was deciding some of the most important things that needed to be done in the interest of the country and then wanting to get them all done at once. He was opposed to a lot of the water projects in the West because he thought they were budget-busters, and there were great questions about whether or not they should be funded. He regarded some of them--I won't debate the wisdom of our judgment here--but he regarded some of them as real boondoggles.

For him to take that on during the first yearof his presidency, at the same time that he was doing everything else--economic policy and employment programs, energy and government reorganization, and all the rest--was folly because it exacerbated his political problem in the West, widened that breach, and cut away his congressional support. Ultimately nothing that the staff could do politically could save him, if you will, from his determination to do it all, because he felt that it ought to be done.

Rumsfeld: One of the tasks of the chief of staffis to see that the president gets views, and presidents have preferences and idiosyncracies and biases and areas of ignorance, just like all of us do. Some president may not enjoy a cabinet officer, may not like to be with him. President Ford, I don't think enjoyed Jim Schlesinger, as opposed to respect--totally different. Now, does that mean that the defense views and Jim Schlesinger's views ought to be cut out of that process? Of course not. They had to be put into the process, and the job of the chief of staff during that period was to assure that, in fact, the defense input got into the foreign policy and national security decision-making process.

I watched Bob Haldeman with President Nixon,who was terribly enamored of John Connally, do just the opposite, struggle to get the other views in because the president enjoyed being with John Connally. And Bob--I didn't walk in his shoes, but I was an assistant to President Nixon, a member of the cabinet, a White House official, and I watched it, and I know, just as sure as we are sitting here, that he ran around figuring out ways that Paul McCracken and Herb Stein and George Shultz and all these other people who had input in the economic area, found their way--and Arthur Burns--found their way into these meetings and that their memos found their way into the president. They had to. And that, to me, is the answer to Fred's question about how the staff can help make things better. I'll give you an example of a couple of "saves" that are minor.

President Ford came out of the Congress. Suddenlyhe's president. He goes up to the Hill. Tip O'Neill puts his arm around him and says, "Come to my birthday party." The president says, "I'll be there." Hell, he's president. He can decide where he wants to go. He comes back down to the White House. You meet with him five times. He doesn't tell you anything about it. It's late in the day; he hands you a couple of napkins where he wrote a note or something, and you look at it and he says, "I've agreed to go to Tip O'Neill's birthday party. It's in seven or eight days." So I come back with a note and I give it to my deputy, Dick Cheney, and Cheney gives it to Jerry Jones or somebody, and they start figuring out where the hell it is and what time it is and who's going to be there and how did they manage that. Turns out one of the Koreans who's under investigation by the Justice Department is paying for the party.

So I go back in to the president and I said,"Lookit, I'm not so all fired sure you ought to go to that party."

"What are you talking about, Rummy? Tip'smy buddy. I'm going to that party."

But finally, you know, you work your way outof it and pretty soon, he doesn't go to the party.

Speechwriting. You can have a very goodspeechwriter who is a very close friend of the president's, and has written a couple of spectacular speeches. He begins to believe that the speechwriting process is better if the speech isn't written by a committee, and he's right.

But you've got the fact that the speech is goingto say something about something, and you've got all these advisers, the Bill Simons and Henry Kissingers and the Schlesingers of the world, who are milling around in the substance every day, and you have to take the speech to them so they can look at it and comment on it. Of course, the speechwriter knows that you are going to do that, so the speech comes in late.

Now, what's the chief of staff's job? The chiefof staff has to heave his body in the middle and try to figure a way for the substantive portions of the speech to finally reach the substantive people so they have a chance to look at it, so the president knows that when he finally gets the speech that, in fact, the substantive people have commented on it.

But what happens when you do that? That'sthrowing sand in the gears and it gets grindy, and pretty soon, out come news stories that Cheney is having a fight with the speechwriter or something. He isn't having a fight with the speechwriter. All he wants is for the ultimate product to accomplish what the president intended. It isn't personal.

Cheney: There's another function in there, in additionto trying to help do something positive, which is to be the cushion that takes the pain and the heat, oftentimes not only externally but also internally.

In the Ford administration, we had majorproblems in managing the vice-presidential relationship. I think the Carter administration and Reagan administration subsequently have done much better. But President Ford came in and, because he'd been vice-president, wanted to have substantive responsibility assigned to the vice-president. He picked Nelson Rockefeller because he was the kind of man of stature that he needed as an unelected president in his own right.

President Ford put the vice-president in chargeof all domestic policy making, put him in charge of the Domestic Council, gave him the assignment of creating new policy, and let him staff the operation out. Everybody on staff said, "Mr. President, you shouldn't do that. It's going to create conflict." But the president is the president. He went ahead and made the decision to do it anyway. But repeatedly after that, at his regular Wednesday afternoon meetings, the vice-president would come in with a new policy proposal for the president, new health insurance scheme or new economic policy initiative of some kind. He'd lay it on the president, and the president would take it.

At the end of the day, you'd go down for thefinal close-out session, and the president would hand it to you and say, "What the hell do we do with this?" Your responsibility at that point was to say, "Well, we'll staff it out," and then take it and send it through the system. The answer would always come back--it never failed--it always came back exactly the same way, "This new policy proposal is totally inconsistent with the basic policy of the Ford administration."

So in effect then, you'd end up having been,as Don said, the sand in the gears. An initiative that might have made all the sense in the world to Nelson Rockefeller was shot down. From the standpoint of the vice-president, you are a bad guy, an obstacle to his opportunity to have a significant impact on policy. The ultimate result is great personal hostility between, in my case, myself and the vice-president.

I was the SOB, and on a number of occasions,got involved in shouting matches with the vice-president. He finally told Ford at one point that the only way he would serve in a second Ford administration as vice-president was if he could also be chief of staff. If you ask President Ford today why that relationship was strained, it was always the staff problem with the vice-president. His relationship with the vice-president was excellent. But the problem, in fact, was created by the president.

Rumsfeld: A lot depends on how good a managerthe president is. How much turmoil goes down below and ends up disrupting things depends on how skillful a manager he is. I'll give you an example.

President, East Wing, sends down the list forthe state dinner for Helmut Schmidt, the West German chancellor. Cabinet officer is not on it. There's only so many slots for a state dinner. The cabinet officer comes to the chief of staff and says, "I've got to be at that dinner. I'm secretary of X. I deal with them all the time on this. It will look like I'm downgraded." And the chief of staff says, "You've got a point. Let me see what I can do."

You go in to the president and say, "Look, thisguy needs it to do his job effectively, to be on it." He says "Look, Betty just came up with this list. The guy's been at the last four straight. I've got a couple of political guys I want to add in there. There's a limit. No." And I say, "Fine. Just keep it in the back of your mind. Someone will cancel and we'll jam him in." You go out of the office. Three days later, the cabinet officer's in there and and says, "Oh, by the way, Mr. President, I'm not on the list." The president says, "you're kidding. Let me see what I can do."

Haldeman: Somebody screwed up again.

Rumsfeld: The president wants everyone to likehim. So that night, last thing you know, it comes on a napkin and he's got a little note. "Let's put that fellow back on." What does the guy think? He's convinced that you tried to cut him out.

Popkin: He thinks you never told the president.

Rumsfeld: Exactly. Or that you had some schemeor something.

Sorensen: Here's an example that was not a policybattle or a personality battle, but a turf battle, and those are the most fierce in Washington. The secretary of interior, Stewart Udall, came to see me. I can't remember what the issue was, but it was a battle over jurisdiction of some kind with the chairman of the Federal Power Commission, Joe Swidler. Well, I didn't know what the decision would be. I didn't know who was in the right and so on. But Udall said Swidler wouldn't talk to him because Swidler said he was the chairman of an independent agency, and all the political science books say that independent agencies don't have to kowtow to executive management. I said, "Well, that's unfortunate."

I did nothing whatsoever. After a period oftime passed, Joe Swidler called me and he said, "Gee, my request for a budget for next year has been sitting on your desk for a very long time. What's happened? I've got to make some plans." I said, "Gee, Joe, I've got a stack of them on my desk. Yours unfortunately is at the bottom of the pile. I've got so many other things I'm trying to work out. For example, that problem between you and Udall: I don't know what to do about that, but I sure wish you'd talk to him about it. If I get that off my desk, I might have time to get back to the pile."

He said, "Well, no, no, that's a question of therights of an independent agency."

"Okay. Well, I'm sure it is."

He called me back ten days later and said,"What about that budget request?" And I said, "Gee, Joe, yours is still at the bottom of the pile." Next day, he saw Udall, and the matter was resolved.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Washington Monthly Company
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:excerpts from Samuel Kernell's book, Chief of Staff: 25 Years of Managing the Presidency
Author:Kernell, Samuel
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Apr 1, 1987
Words:8606
Previous Article:"Do you want any more secret documents put in the safe, Mr. ambassador? "No, Ivan, that's all for tonight." (U.S. marine and espionage)
Next Article:The reckoning.
Topics:


Related Articles
American forces press service (Oct. 3, 2005): Pace issues guidance to help military 'shape the future'.
10 activists or terrorists? Judge weighs arguments.
BUSINESS BEAT.
Colts' Omlid claims 5A girls title.
Cynthia Knight joins South Lane.
COMMUNITIES BRIEFLY.
BRIEFLY.
War spending bill adjusts federal timber aid extension.
CITY ONE OF TOP RETAIL MARKETS SURVEY SHOWS SALES EXCEED $2 BILLION.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters