tv Washington Journal Chris Whipple CSPAN March 9, 2018 2:41pm-3:02pm EST
discussion. that's coming up live at 3 p.m. eastern here on c-span. ahead of that, a look at some of today's washington journal. .to joining us is chris whipple, author of "gatekeepers: how the white house chief of staff defined every presidency." your book is out in paperback with a new chapter talking to the president's first chief of staff, reince priebus, and steve bannon. what did you learn? know, it's been the most dysfunctional white house in modern history, but it turns out it was a wild ride then we even imagined from the outside. when i sat down with reince priebus for the first time, he said off the record and the later i persuaded him to put it he said, "take- everything you heard and multiply it by 50."
that will give you an idea of what it was like during the first six months of the trump white house. the chapter begins with a phone call from president trump to his chief of staff a little after 6:00 a.m. on january 21. trump was livid, furious about the picture of his inauguration compared to obama's in "the washington post," demanding that previous fix it. he thought to himself, do i want to go to war with the president on day one? six months kind of for reince priebus. host: how did reince priebus prepare for the job? guest: well, you know, that's a good question. one of the things he did as he was invited to the white house by denis mcdonough, the outgoing white house chief of staff in december 2016. excuse me.
10 former white house chiefs came to the white house and gathered around the table to give him their best advice. agreedl told him and all that he needed to be empowered to be effective as white house chief. of course, donald had no intention of empowering him as we found out. most of those chiefs came away feeling not very optimistic about his chances, feeling he had not prepared seriously. one former white house chief put it rather unkindly. he said rights previous had the attitude of a personal aide and cruise director. host: what did he mean by that? guest: he meant that reince priebus did not do any serious perforation for the job of white house chief of staff. it's an enormously important job and requires an extraordinary skill set.
it requires a kind of infrastructure of deputy chiefs and things that you have to know in order to run the white house well. in this former chiefs opinion, priebus had not done any of that preparation. priebus would argue that donald trump was a unique president. donald trump is who he is and he was going to run the white house like the 26th floor of trump tower. he was not going to empower anyone in the traditional way as white house chief. host: at that lunch with the former chief when rights previous was given advice -- reince priebus was given advice come he was also paid a visit by barack obama. what did the president tell him? guest: barack obama walked in the middle of this meeting. everybody stood up and he greeted them. obama looked up at his former chiefs who were all there. and said,to priebus you know, everyone of these guys
told me things that pissed me off. they weren't always right and sometimes i was right. that's the most important thing that a chief of staff can do. tell a president not what he wants to hear but needs to hear. i hope you will do that for president trump he said. and then he departed. over the next six months, i'm afraid that priebus did not really distinguish himself at speaking hard truce to donald trump. earlier said if i was donald trump's chief of staff i would've smashed his phone. i would've prevented him from tweeting. if that were to happen, the president's approval rating would be 80%. i don't know about that, but it is true that almost any chief of staff you talk to would tell you that tweeting has been destructive. keeping theway of
administration off message come of, off balance. in priebus's defense come he tried to take away trump's phone from him and even conspired with the secret service to take a phone away from him. turns out trump had another one. they had family interventions. lania tried to get him to give up his phone. he stopped tweeting for a few days and then went right back at it. it may be mission impossible to take away donald trump's twitter account. host: reince priebus was the chief of staff. the former chief told them you need to be number one. what was his relationship like with steve bannon? guest: you know, interestingly steve bannon and priebus got along pretty well. there are always factions as we now know within the white house. there's always introducing conflict.
this one has really been like " game of thrones." what happened is that the ivanka trump and jared kushner were troubled by steve bannon. they were not happy with him and wanted to push them out reportedly. bannon that priebus and formed a kind of alliance. i think they liked each other and i think they worked reasonably well together. host: what about the structure that was set up with steve bannon in that position and reince priebus as chief of staff? guest: it was really unworkable and it was really a kind of troika were maybe a three headed beast. you had reince priebus as chief of staff in title but not the authority really. you had steve bannon as the particle strategist and then jared kushner, who was family.
authority was really divided among three of them. one of the things i learned from my book is that every president finds out often the hard way that you cannot govern effectively without empowering a chief of staff as first among equals to execute your agenda and most important to tell you what you don't want to hear. donald trump failed to do that during the first six months and he paid the price. history is littered with the wreckage of presidencies that did not get it that you have to do that in order to govern effectively. jimmy carter took 2.5 years to appear about. bill clinton took a year and a half before empowering leon panetta to get the job done. it was a non-workable structure and it was the most dysfunctional white house in modern history. host: chris whipple here to attac take your questions and
comments about the role of chief of staff in the white house. democrats, (202) 748-8000. republicans, (202) 748-8001. an independents, (202) 748-8002. you can also join us on twitter or go to facebook.com/c-span. want to take your questions on your thoughts about the current chief of staff and the role of chiefs of staff inside the white house. wasre we get to calls, what reince priebus's demise? how was he treated at the end? know, he wasyou really subjected to a lot of ritual humiliation as you may recall during this for six months. -- those first six months. donald trump seems to be able to sense weakness and take it manage of it. there was that famous incident where he was reportedly
asked to come in and swat a fly. he was not treated with the but most respect and his end came very abruptly. priebus submitted his resignation after anthony scaramucci, the short-lived communications director, insulted him. basically accused him of leaking confidential information. when i was accused of a felony, i basically said i've had it. he went to donald trump and said he was resigning. he hoped it would be a graceful , as, but shortly thereafter air force one sat on the tarmac at andrews air force base and rain, you may recall that donald trump tweeted that reince priebus was out in general john kelly was in. host: ian in oceanside, new york. you up first.
caller: i would like to touch on general john kelly sitting there. he still carries 63% or maybe even more. we're going to sit down with north korea. if it doesn't work out, at least it's a first step. general kelly when asked questions from the press, he said you people dedicate your question straight. general kelly said this guy is right on point and doing fine. now 62% of the conservative things he push for within his first year, even with the fbi the militarized just like barack did with the blm going after people like cliven bundy and the irs, which cliven bundy was let go and the irs had to pay out, weaponize everything. we are learning everything now and everything's saying don't tweet. tweeting is new technology. guest: is this a question or a speech by the way? caller: question or a speech?
i'mld the spring call that a united states marine coast guard captain. host: general kelly said to the press he is doing fine. look, this is been the most dysfunctional white house in modern history. for a year it has been a broken white house that has been unable to do anything right. first of all, he was unable to pass legislation. he couldn't issue executive orders that were enforceable. they were blocked in the courts as you know. they cannot prioritize the president's agenda. nobody knows what it is. they can't get anybody on the same page. the only way tax reform got through was keeping donald trump 100 miles away from it. i think that by any measure, this white house has been the most dysfunctional, least accomplished in modern history. donald trump is not the first president to come in to office
full of hubris, thinking he had all the answers. most presidents get over that. most presidents figure out that there's a difference between campaigning, demonizing, and divided, and governing. donald trump still has a figure that out and i'm afraid general kelly has reinforced all of his worst partisan instincts. i think a lot of people expected more from general kelly frankly. host: larry in petersburg, illinois, independent. caller: good morning. good morning, mr. whipple. makei would just like to a comment. it seems that you are looking at this from a negative point of view and i would just like to let you know that people out here -- i know it's turned flyover states -- we elected president trump because we knew he would be different.
we overlook some of his things that we might consider negative, but we're looking at results. and today is a very historic moment if you look at what happened yesterday. we have got a long way to go on this, but there's another point of view on this. host: are you referring to tariffs or that he's going to meet with -- caller: i think the terrorists is going to be worked out in a good way, but this is with north korea. it's a historic moment. host: let's take that point. guest: we will see about that. if you read my book -- i don't know if you have read my book, but if you do, i think you will see that i tried to be very evenhanded and an honest chronicler of how chiefs of staff have performed over history, whether they are republicans or democrats. i would cite james a baker the third, a republican, as a gold
standard among white house chiefs. leon panetta was perhaps a close second in terms of effectiveness. what i'm talking about here is not whether you like donald trump or not. i'm looking at results and i'm looking at the white house chief and his ability to perform and deliver. , ii were for donald trump would be disappointed and sometimes furious about the fact that this white house has been so dysfunctional and so unable to deliver any results. i think the reality is by any measure, if you look at the record of this white house over the first year, it really was unable to get anything accomplished unless you consider ripping up executive orders and abolishing regulations and getting a justice on the supreme court. if you consider that great governance, so be it, but i
think by every other measure, this white house has really been a failure. host: mr. whipple, what made james baker and leon panetta the gold standard? guys: well, these are two -- jim baker to begin with was a guy who was as smooth as silk texas lawyer who is comfortable and his own skin. he was confident and not only new capitol hill and how deliver votes, but he understood the white house. at the end of the day, he was a guy who could walk into the oval office, close the door, and tell ronald reagan what he didn't want to hear. same thing with leon panetta and bill clinton. that's the most important thing a chief can do. to give you a quick example, reagan was determined right out of the gate to tackle social security reform. arounder, who had been the block and was politically savvy, told him, listen. social security reform is the
third rail of american politics. you touch it and you will be electrocuted. let's try something else. reagan pivoted to tax cuts and the economy. and the rest is history. there would have been no reagan revolution without somebody like jim baker being able to speak archers to ronald reagan. -- hard truths to ronald reagan. i see no evidence that that is happening in this white house and quite frankly john kelly is out of his depth politically. host: how do they run the white house on a daily basis versus how it's being run now? guest: well, you know, in a functioning white house that's firing on every cylinder, everything flows from an empowered white house chief of staff who executes the president's agenda. you cannot overestimate how important the job is. he's not only famously the gatekeeper who creates time and space for the president to think. he's also the honest broker of information who makes sure that
every decision is teed up with accurate information on every side and will also make sure that only the toughest decisions get into the oval office. he is in charge of key medications and making sure that -- communication and making sure that everyone is on the same page. he's a so-called heatshield taking all the flak aimed at the present. executed person who the president's agenda and the person who tells them what he does not want to hear. and a functioning white house, that translates into results. host: david your next in las vegas, a democrat. i feel that the chief of staff is just like the president. they will be flip-flopping on every issue. to me, it don't make sense. host: what do you mean, david? thing, well, for one daca.
tosident trump was ready , but the chief of staff had a talk with him and trump changed his mind. host: gotr point. guest: this is part of my point about john kelly and it's been one of his real weaknesses. it seems to me that he has failed by even the very narrow definition of the job, his own definition of it, which was not to manage the president but to make the west wing trains run on time. we have seen the trains off the track with rob porter and security clearances and all the chaos, but more importantly to point, iur caller's really think that john kelly has reinforced donald trump's worst partisan instincts. and the remarks about daca were a perfect example of that. another example is when john kelly walked up to the podium
and the white house press briefing room and told a false story about representative wilson. partisanshipind of that you don't really want to see from your white house chief. house chief is supposed to be the honest broker and supposed to be above the political fray. he is supposed to be the person jeeps, -- chiefs, they were honest brokers. they didn't throw their weight around. >> i want to get your reaction from the president during his conference. this is how he responded. >> the white house has tremendous energy, tremendous spirit. it is a great place to be in. many people want every single job. maybe people don't want to work
for trump, everybody wants to work in the white house. they all want a piece of the oval office, of the west wing. not only in terms of it looks great on the resume, it is a great place to work. .t has tremendous entry -- i make a decision. i like watching it, seeing it, it is the best way to go. i like different points of view. the white house has tremendous energy. we have tremendous talent. we have people that change, they always change. sometimes they want to do something else, but they all want to be in the white house. i have the choice of anybody. i could take any position in the white house and i will have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position. everybody wants to be there. they love this white house because we have energy like
rarely before. >> what do you make of the president there? >> you have to agree with what he said about energy. there is a lot of energy in a burning building or nuclear meltdown. this white house is in a freefall. we have never seen anything like this chaos. is they model he knows 26th floor of trump tower. way -- theun the white house the way you run a manhattan real estate firm. nobody empowered, no chain of command. with --is littered