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tv   White House Transitions  CSPAN  January 19, 2017 9:01am-9:31am EST

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inauguration of donald trump is friday. c-span will have live coverage of all the day's events and ceremonies. watch live on c-span and cspan.org and listen live on the free c-span radio app. and video here of preparations taking place for the inauguration tomorrow. in particular, work being done at the white house as president-elect trump gets ready to move in as president. this video tweeted out by jonathan carl of abc news. and we should let you know that we are standing by to hear from sean spicer, he's the incoming press secretary for the trump administration. he has a briefing with reporters coming up at 9:30 this morning. it was originally set for 9:00. we'll have it for you when it starts at 9:30 here on c-span 3. right now, though, former white house chief usher gary walters talks about white house preparations for the new
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administration. gary walters, former white house chief usher. when did you begin to think about the events that were going to unfold on january 20 with the inauguration of a new president? >> well, we had to begin because of the budget issues a year and a half before that. each four-year cycle we have to prepare for the possibility of a change of administration. even with a sitting president. so our procedures began down the road in the budget cycle of putting additional money in for inaugural activities which included things like packing up one family, getting ready to receive a new family, the overtime associated with that. so we actually began about a year and a half to get the money in the budget cycle. then it went to the next summer, gathering information as each of the candidates started to announce that they were going to be running for president. we started to gather information
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that we could gain from the media, whether it be television or newspapers or magazines and articles about what their favorite likes and dislikes and family members and friends just to gather general information. then, of course, when we got in the summer and had the republican and democratic conventions and a president -- presidential candidate was selected then we would start getting rid of all the information of the other candidates and have the information and start gathering more intently the information that the two candidates -- two primary candidates, anyway of the republican and democratic national committee and we would go from there and just continue to gather information until election day. >> over the years, you've had a unique personal firsthand account, a front row seat, if you want to say, to history. so let's talk about you for a moment. when did you first go to the
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white house? you should what circumstan under what circumstances and how did your job become chiefisher? >> i started as a uniformed officer of the secret service, it was called the protective service at the time, that was in 1970. then in 1975 one of the ushers was leaving position and a position became open in the usher's office. i applied to have a chance to be in that position. i'd got on the know the activities in the executive residence and people that worked there, i just finished my college degree in business and he was looking for somebody who had the ability to oversee the budget for the executive residence. i happened to be in the right place at the right time and was chosen by the then chief usher to join the office in 1976. then when he decided to retire ten years later in '86, he recommended me to the president and mrs. reagan as the next chief usher and i stayed until 2007. >> so let's talk about 1976/1977
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because you had the only appointed president, gerald ford, loses in one of the closest elections in american history, it could have gone either way and then for the first time you had to prepare for a brand new president, including one with a young daughter. >> that's true. the usher's office, led by the chief usher gave us our responsibilities -- gather information, put together thi things. i was the new guy on the block and tried to learn as much as i cou cou could. on inaugural day i arrived at 3:00 in the morning to see what was going to go on from morning till late at night. my actual job on inaugural day while the president and the president-elect went to the capitol for the new president to take the oath of office was to go across the street to blair house and bring the carters' cat back from the blair house.
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that was one of my primary jobs. but there's a lot that goes on in the preparation leading up to inaugural day. as i said, gathering information, the chief usher talks to the first family, principally the first lady about the way she would like the house on the first day there. the activities associated with those days. i remember the carters invited everybody who marched in the parade to come through the white house over the next three days and the carters greeted them and shook hands with everybody that participated in the parade. of course on inaugural evening, you have to plan for the family activities before they're going out to the inaugural balls, the transition between finishing watching the presidential inaugural parade and getting ready to go out to the inaugural balls that evening. if they're going to have additional family members there, helping them get ready for the inaugural balls so it's a pretty active time around the white
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house and particular for the resident staff with everything going on. >> we have this great picture of the north portico entrance of the white house here in our studio. one of two formal entrances. and did it surprise you that the white house is not quite as big as people might think it is? >> television has given the impression, starting with mrs. kennedy's tour of the white house after it was redone in her early days, and it just gives the impression that the rooms are larger than they are and i think most families who move into the white house have a misconception of what the size of the rooms are. of course the second and third floor of the private quarters are large for a family. when you have a family like the carters had in particular, they had two of their sons move in with their wives and we had a baby born in the white house with james earl carter iv born just a month after inaugural day. so the house, although large,
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can be -- i don't want to say intimidating for some families, because it is an extremely large house, but it's not as large as it appears on television. >> let's talk about the tours. we saw last month as melania trump toured with outgoing first lady michelle obama. that's been a long tradition. what happens on that day? where typically does the first lady take the incoming first lady? >> well, traditionally, to my memory, it was usually a meeting at the south portico, a greeting. they go upstairs into the private quarters where they meet and sit.frequently first ladies talk about children. in the reagan administration there weren't children but mrs. obama and mrs. trump i'm sure spoke about raising a child in the environment of the white house. at some point they also walk around the second floor, possibly the third floor to show them what their new home is going to be like, what changes
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they can make to the different areas, how they can use those areas to their wants and needs and then i believe that mrs. obama, if i'm not mistaken, went to the first floor and went through part of the first floor, the historic rooms people think of, the east room, state dining room, the parlors, red, blue, and green rooms to give a sense of history of the house. >> first lady michelle obama had redone the state dining room. laura bush redid the lincoln bedroom. are there constraints in terms of what any white house, any president and first lady can or cannot do to the white house? >> actually, physical constraints there are none. the whole house belongs to the family. the american people elected them so they can do anything they want. if they wanted to stop tours they could. i don't think any president or first lady ever would consider that. but the ground floor and the first floor of the residence are pretty much historic. i think that now has been established with mrs. kennedy's efforts in 1961 to '63 and those rooms have a historic basis to
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them. upstairs on the second floor in the private quarters there are the traditional guest bedrooms on the second floor at the east end of the building, the lincoln and the queen's bedrooms. those are the traditional guest bedrooms when the family has personal guests there. then the other rooms up there can be used in any way that the first family desires. it is their home as well as the third floor and during the years there have been different family members who have resided there, as i said earlier. president carter had his two sons and their wives live there during the time he was in office. in this administration, mrs. obama's mother lives up on the third floor area. so those areas are private areas to the family and they get used the way the family wishes to. >> so this is the transition process we are in right now leading up to january 20. what's going on in the white house, if anything? >> well, in the white house, the first thing going on is christmas holidays. with all the activities that are going off and have just ended
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with the president leaving to go to hawaii but in the evening there's the tours for the candlelight tours that go on so up until -- through the month of december, the actual activities through the white house are the traditional activities of december. when the president returns there will be some degree of thank yous as there have been for each president. thank you for the people that helped him during the previous four or eight years. and then also on inaugural day there will be the activities that i stated before with the presidential parade and immediately after inaugural day the incoming president will probably do receptions or dinners or whatever they decide to have for the people that helped him get elected to office. as far as the staff goes, the staff will start to be making the preparations for the move out of one family and the move in of a second family. the sitting first family, it's
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their home until noon on inaugural day and the staff makes every effort to see the family is not slighted in any way, that they're taken care of, that it's their home. when the sitting president and the president-elect and their families depart from the north portico and head down to capitol hill that's when things get a little crazy. i've referred to it many times as organized chaos. one family's belongings are moved out, the other family's belongings are moved in. with the important thing of trying to get the house established by the time they get finished with the inaugural parade around 5:00 in the evening on inaugural day that they walk into a house that's been transformed into their house and something they're comfortable with. the things they've chosen, the pieces of furniture, the pieces of art work that can be changed out. all those things are done when they walk in the door. there's no boxes in the corner that haven't been unpacked, they're gone and out of the way and the american people have a
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great interest in what the president does in the oval office and that also takes place on inaugural day. presidents very soon after coming back in from the inaugural parade like to go over and go into their office which has been converted to their office with the items that they want to represent their administration. >> let me take that one step further, gary walters. if you could go into some detail. "organized chaos" requires a lot of planning so walk us through what the staff is doing on january 19 and what happens at noon as the president departs for the capitol -- actually before noon, the ceremony begins at nigh noon and you have about six hours to transform the white house. >> hopefully the staff has the opportunity to go home and get a good night's rest. that doesn't always occur but the hope is that everything is in place. that the next day the staff has been divided into that group that's responsible for moving a family out and that group that's
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responsible for moving a family in. we use two different elevators, one for things going out, one for things coming in. all those things are pre-decided leading up to the 20th. the 19th is a day when you're trying to get everybody organized and make sure they know their jobs. there's no time for decisions to be made that are something that hasn't been decided. it all has to be choreographed. there's a limited time, as you said, only about five hours usually, maybe six, and everything is choreographed. everybody has a job. everybody goes and does those jobs. one thing moves in, one thing moves out. it's similar to an ant hill it looks like it's chaos but it's actually extremely well organized. people are packing things, people are unpacking things. people are placing things, people are taking things away.
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if white house furniture is being brought in from the warehouse, that's pre-positioned overnight but not on white house grounds and brought in early in the morning on inaugural morning and trucks that have been escorted by security and brought in. if there are things going out of the first family's that haven't already left, furnishings or paintings or anything they have, last-minute clothing or whatever that's also taken care of by a group of people designated to do that so it's a very organized way that we go about it. it's very choreographed. and it's hard to explain the amount of effort that goes into that by everybody involved. the other thing is we don't use people from the outside. there's not hundreds of people involved. for the first family's privacy, both the family moving out and the family moving in, we only use the resident staff and the few people that may be there who have been there for years that help us when we have state
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dinners. we only have six butlers so obviously we have to call in additional people and most of the people have been around for a long time so there's a very small cadre of people and it's the resident staff principally that do this move. it is a privacy issue. we don't need a lot of extra people who are there that want to volunteer because, to be quite honest with you, they get in the way. i've had numerous requests over the years for having the press come in. can't we just take a picture here and there? the answer is no, we don't have time for that. we don't have time to move things around to accommodate lights and various things and people that are there who don't v a specific purpose in the move. >> are there family members for the outgoing and incoming first family to say "hey, we want this over here" or "we need to move that over there" or "we want that picture next to that window"? >> there could be but i would hope that wouldn't be the
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circumstance. i would hope that that would have been decided in the weeks leading up to the move. usually the first ladies work with an interior decorator who has taken a look at the floor plans and the various items moving in and gives us an idea of where those things will be placed. specifically in each administration that i dealt with we had those decisions made well before inaugural day and actually had diagrams of where pieces of furniture -- because quite frequently families bring small pieces of furniture of their own but they use the majority of the furniture that's been in the white house inventory for years. some things are moved out entirely, other things are moved there. in the transition from the reagans to the bushes, when the reagans were there, there was president reagan and mrs. reagan. when the bushes came in, they had a very large family and mrs. bush was very concerned that on inaugural day that the residence would have to bring in 12 additional beds and all the things that go with that to
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convert some of the rooms that had been sitting rooms into rooms for the bush family. she had great concerns that we'd be able to do it but when shi came in and had a chance to walk around and everything, things were done and everything was in its place and she was very happy. >> when you say "great concerns," she knew what she wanted. >> she knew what she wanted but it was the concern of the amount of things that had to be moved in. when you're talking about moving in and out antique beds, mattresses, carpets, changing out carpets, putting art on the wall, taking other art off of the wall, moving in books and, quite frequently, presidents move in with lots of reading material. of course mrs. bush was a great advocate of literacy and she came with her own set of books and wanted to know where those were going to be placed and we were able to accomplish it. the resident staff is a very professional group and they've been through this before. not to say it's easy because it's not but it's well planned
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leading up to inaugural day. >> i want you to go back to one day that i think epitomizes the transfer of power and that is january 20, 1981. because you had jimmy carter, our 39th president, still trying to release the hostages up all night on the phone as president-elect reagan was coming over to the white house and so here you had a very much of a working white house until noon when ronald reagan took over on that date. do you remember what happened? >> actually, i do, i was there that night, all night long. i had taken over some beverages during the course of the evening because everybody else was gone. the president's staff with the exception of his advisers that were in the oval office with him had pretty much departed. that operation was obviously taking place with the national security council people but the majority of the rest of the staff had already moved on and moved out. so there was a lot that was going on. as i said, i took over some
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beverages during the course of the evening, orange juice, coffee, tea, water, couple pillows, couple blankets and it was a very intense time as you and many others remember. it was something that we -- none of us knew what was going to occur leading up to inaugural day. were they going to leave? weren't they going to leave? had they been moved from one location, the hostages, from one location to another? so it was very intense all night long. and on the other side, president reagan, i'm sure he was getting briefings also on what was going on but of course he was at blair house so we weren't involved with that. we were just trying to make things as comfortable as possible and maintain the fact that the white house was still the sitting president's house until noon and we were able to accomplish that, at least our small smart of it, certainly i can't speak for all those people
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that worked so hard in trying to get the hostages released from iran but it just shows that the white house is an active place and that inaugural moment of noon on inaugural day when power shifts, up until that point, the sitting president is still in power. and it's quite remarkable that there country operates and can operate in that manner. >> you have seen so much over the years and so many stories. what happened in 1981 is one of those stories. does anything with regard to this transfer of power in what you've seen over the years stand out in your mind? >> i think the thing most people talk about and that i'm aware of is that it's a smooth transition. it's very seldom if at all that there is any acrimony and certainly the way our government operates is integral to what
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happens in the world. and the fact that we have this wonderful transition of power, peaceful. people are talking to each other, walking out of those north doors as they're going down to the capital. it's a remarkable thing this country does in a transfer of power. we've had a president in office for eight years and yet it's going to change very smoothly on inaugural day. >> from jimmy carter to barack obama you were there when the incoming president walks into the white house for the first time as president of the united states. what do you remember and what do you think is going through their mind? what do you think will be going through donald trump's mind? >> i think after standing in front of the capitol and giving the inaugural address and then standing and having the inaugural parade that there's almost the sense of relief
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walking in the north portico doors. now you're for once on that day out of the public eye for just a brief moment. for myself i had the great honor and pleasure of being able to walk up to the presidents and say "mr. president, welcome to your home. and that's a great honor for me and the chief ushers that preceded me. that's our choice. we want to be there and make sure that the president understands that this is his home, he and his family. this is not just a house that the american people own but this for the next years is their home and that's the transition that has to take place for the residents and in particular the resident staff. they will have been with the previous president and family for four or eight years and become quite fond of them now you have that few short hours when there's a transition and and resident staff is a long-term staff, has served both
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republicans and democrats and they serve the presidency not the president. >> long day for you because the president and first lady have the balls that often go to 1:00, sometimes 2:00 in the morning. what time did you finally get to bed? >> didn't. most of the time there was something else going on. in the clinton administration, mrs. clinton asked us to do something with chelsea and her few friends that would be there while the presidents were off at the balls in the transition to the clinton administration and we came up with a sophisticated pizza party that also had a scavenger hunt for the young people that required them to go to all floors of the executive residence to look for paintings. it was quite an interesting time for the young people to be running around, some in bare feet looking for historical
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facts inside the white house. so that ended. that party ended around midnight, i think, then we waited up for the president and first lady to come back and be there to answer questions that they may have for that night and the next morning. the next morning i think it was widely said by mrs. clinton and president clinton that they woke up in the morning and looked at each other and said "okay, what do we do next? >> and i'm sure that goes through all the families that are there but hopefully in that morning after january 20 they have a feeling that they here in a place they're comfortable. that it's their home. >> what's the transition after that? what needs to be done the first week or two of any incoming administration? any new family? >> well it depends on what the families wish to accomplish in that first period. hopefully most of the initial decoration has been done on inaugural day but there may be additional things or maybe some
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thoughts about having additional carpets done or a painting of the rooms because they've been eight years in one color, maybe th they want to change the colors. but immediacy is the events. there will be some thank you party. as i said earlier, president and mrs. carter had the whole inaugural parade for three days after the election but there will be some thank you parties that will go on immediately after and then early in february the president usually that has 50 governors, the heads of states in for a state dinner type event. there will be meetings and swearing ins of the white house staff. we don't slow down. it's just the change of administration. the work of the presidency goes on and the work of the staff supports him goes on. >> i want you to relate the story of what happened on
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september 11 not with regard to the transition of a president but how quickly the staff has to react to international events and on the morning of september 11, 2001, you were preparing for a congressional barbecue. >> that is correct. we had spent about three weeks in preparation for a congressional barbecue that not many people are aware of that was to be held on the white house south grounds that evening for the senate, the house, the president's senior staff. and there were chuck wagons and picnic tables and barbecue facilities on the lawn and i went out in the morning just before 9:00 to escort mrs. bush who was actually going down to congress to testify before senator kennedy's committee on childhood education and as she was being put in the car her agent said "mrs. bush, there's
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been a terrible accident in new york, a plane has flown into one of the world trade centers." as she was getting in the car and he turned to me as he was closing the door and said "you ought to go in and see what's going on, it's on television." and he said it with a -- with an understanding that he and i had that there was something more there than just an accident but anyway i at some point after talking to some of my staff, because we were still preparing at that point for starting to cook meat for that night and various things and i went in, went up to my office and as i walked in the door to my office i saw a plane on the television fly into the building in new york and i said to one of my assistants "my gosh, how did they get that on camera so quickly?" and he said "that's the second plane." it was like something hit me in the stomach with a very hard punch and i sat down and i
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immediately called the social secretary and told her that i was making the decision that i was cancelling the picnic and i had to get ahold of the people that were going to be coming in to the barbecue that were helping set up for it. there was a group called the parini ranch people who were there from texas to do this barbecue. so we had to cancel that. we had to make arrangements for stopping the part-time butlers that were going to come in and help serve the 2000 people that were going to be there. we had an awful lot we had to do and it was just a terrifying day on the south grounds. at one point, everybody has seen the pictures, i think, of the police coming by and telling everybody to run, evacuate the white house and get out and i was able to keep seven men with me on the south grounds and we ended up during the course of the day -- because i knew the president was coming back to the white house. there was no doubt in my mind
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what the president was going to do. he was coming back to the white house. he couldn't land at the pentagon because the pentagon helicopter pad was no longer available because of what was going on there. couldn't go to the vice president's residence so i knew he was coming to the white house so we stayed there all day and cleaned the picnic tables off of the south grounds and got it ready for the president's return. he returned later that night after flying in air force one over a good part of the country during the course of the day and went into the oval office and gave the speech to the american people. it was an ongoing difficult security situation in the next few days at the white house because nobody knew if we were going to be hit again and so there were a number of -- myself and a number of other people who spent about three days there but we knew what we

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