Cover image for The Gatekeepers
Title:
The Gatekeepers

How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency
Author:
Whipple, Chris
Subject:
Biography & Autobiography
History
Politics
Nonfiction
Description:
The first in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the White House Chiefs of Staff, whose actions—and inactions—have defined the course of our countryWhat do Dick Cheney and Rahm Emanuel have in common? Aside from polarizing personalities, both served as chief of staff to the president of the United States—as did Donald Rumsfeld, Leon Panetta, and a relative handful of others. The chiefs of staff, often referred to as "the gatekeepers," wield tremendous power in Washington and beyond; they decide who is allowed to see the president, negotiate with Congress to push POTUS's agenda, and—most crucially—enjoy unparalleled access to the leader of the free world. Each chief can make or break an administration, and each president reveals himself by the chief he picks. Through extensive, intimate interviews with all seventeen living chiefs and two former presidents, award-winning journalist and producer Chris Whipple pulls back the curtain on this unique fraternity. In doing so, he revises our understanding of presidential history, showing us how James Baker's expert managing of the White House, the press, and Capitol Hill paved the way for the Reagan Revolution—and, conversely, how Watergate, the Iraq War, and even the bungled Obamacare rollout might have been prevented by a more effective chief. Filled with shrewd analysis and never-before-reported details, The Gatekeepers offers an essential portrait of the toughest job in Washington.From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype

Crown
Date:
2017/04/04
Digital Format:
HTML

Kindle

Adobe EPUB
Language:
English

Summary

Summary

The first in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the White House Chiefs of Staff, whose actions--and inactions--have defined the course of our country.

What do Dick Cheney and Rahm Emanuel have in common? Aside from polarizing personalities, both served as chief of staff to the president of the United States--as did Donald Rumsfeld, Leon Panetta, and a relative handful of others. The chiefs of staff, often referred to as "the gatekeepers," wield tremendous power in Washington and beyond; they decide who is allowed to see the president, negotiate with Congress to push POTUS's agenda, and--most crucially--enjoy unparalleled access to the leader of the free world. Each chief can make or break an administration, and each president reveals himself by the chief he picks.

Through extensive, intimate interviews with all seventeen living chiefs and two former presidents, award-winning journalist and producer Chris Whipple pulls back the curtain on this unique fraternity. In doing so, he revises our understanding of presidential history, showing us how James Baker's expert managing of the White House, the press, and Capitol Hill paved the way for the Reagan Revolution--and, conversely, how Watergate, the Iraq War, and even the bungled Obamacare rollout might have been prevented by a more effective chief.

Filled with shrewd analysis and never-before-reported details, The Gatekeepers offers an essential portrait of the toughest job in Washington.


Author Notes

Chris Whipple is a writer, documentary filmmaker, journalist, and speaker. He is a graduate of Yale University with a B.A. in History. He has been a producer for CBS's 60 Minutes and ABC's Primetime. He has won Multiple Peabody and Emmy Awards. He was the creator and executive producer for the ABC show What Would You Do. He was the writer and executive producer of The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs, seen on Showtime. He is the chief executive officer of CCWHIP Productions. His book, The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, is a New York Times best seller.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Whipple, a documentary filmmaker and first-time author, surveys recent U.S. presidential history by profiling chiefs of staff from Nixon to Obama. He doesn't quite justify his subtitle or even try particularly hard to prove its far-reaching claim, but he does recount a vibrant narrative of the real-world West Wing and give insight into the oft-mentioned but little-explained role of White House Chief of Staff. Repurposing original interviews conducted for a documentary film that Whipple cowrote, The President's Gatekeepers, the book is peppered with stories and insights from many of the chiefs of staff and other key players including presidents Carter and George H.W. Bush. Whipple also draws from other histories and political memoirs, giving the book an insiders' feel as it recounts historical episodes such as the Watergate break-in, the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, the 9/11 attacks, and the unsuccessful rollout of healthcare.gov. The confident and fast-paced narrative is enhanced by having actual historical players contribute well-rounded (and sometimes surprising) characterizations of presidents and other Washington luminaries. In this page-turner of a history, readers will discover new facets of historical events that they felt they already knew. Agent: Lisa Queen, Queen Literary Agency. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The position of White House chief of staff is a relatively modern construct. Ideally a combination of trusted confidante and devil's advocate, the chief of staff is the one person tasked with keeping the president and his administration on point and on schedule. The success or failure of any presidency can often lie squarely on the shoulders of this person who is neither elected nor confirmed for the position. From the outrageous hubris of John Sununu in the George H. W. Bush White House to the pompous arrogance of Donald T. Regan in Ronald Reagan's, the chief of staff can hinder a president's image, affect his legacy, and, indeed, limit his time in office. Others, such as the consummate professional James A. Baker (also Reagan), Leon Panetta (Bill Clinton), and Andrew Card (George W. Bush), have imposed a strict sense of organization, control, and decorum over the most powerful office in the world. Having interviewed all 17 living former chiefs of staff and two former presidents, Whipple offers a scintillating behind-the-scenes look at an office that is all but invisible to the public. This is page-turning catnip for political junkies, who will read it with an eye to what lies in store for Reince Priebus and the Trump administration.--Haggas, Carol Copyright 2017 Booklist


Library Journal Review

Journalist and documentarian Whipple has written a detailed account of the White House chief of staff's development. The current role started with the Nixon administration and H.R. Haldeman. -Whipple demonstrates that the position can be a major factor in the success or failure of presidencies. Men have failed as chief of staff because they thought the power of presidency filtered through them, leading to inflated egos. Successful figures were those willing to see alternatives and check infighting within administrations. This is a worthwhile read that compares well with Bradley H. Patterson Jr.'s The White House Staff and Kate Andersen Brower's The Residence. Through firsthand accounts of the presidency, it gives valuable understanding of the position and would be a great tool for Reince Priebus as President Donald Trump's chief of staff. VERDICT Highly recommended for those seeking a history of the modern presidency or political insight. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]-Jacob Sherman, John Peace Lib., Univ. of Texas at San Antonio © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof*** Copyright © 2017 Chris Whipple Introduction "I Brought My Pillow and My Blankie" Rahm Emanuel was so cold he could see his breath as he crossed the White House parking lot and entered the West Wing lobby. It was December 5, 2008, an unusually frigid morning in Washington, D.C. But it wasn't the weather that sent a chill through Emanuel; it was the unbelievably daunting challenge that lay ahead. In just six weeks Emanuel would become White House chief of staff to Barack Obama, the forty-fourth president of the United States. But for more than a month, he had watched in astonishment as the world they were about to inherit was turned upside down. The U.S. economy was teetering on the edge of another Great Depression. Credit--the lifeblood of the world economy--was frozen. The entire auto industry was on the brink of collapse. Two bloody wars were mired in stalemate. There was more than a little truth, Emanuel thought, to the headline in The Onion : "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job." The stiletto-tongued infighter, former senior adviser to Bill Clinton, and congressman from Illinois felt apprehensive. "I brought my pillow and my blankie," he would later joke, looking back at that dark morning when the fate of the new administration seemed to hang in the balance. The truth was, Rahm Emanuel was scared. The unannounced gathering at the White House that morning looked like a Cold War-era national security crisis. Black sedans and SUVs rolled up; men in dark suits clambered into the Executive Mansion. Emanuel thought about the elite fraternity that was assem­bling here: Donald Rumsfeld. Dick Cheney. Leon Panetta. Howard Baker Jr. Jack Watson. Ken Duberstein. John Sununu. Sam Skinner. Mack McLarty. John Podesta. Andrew Card. Joshua Bolten. They were among Washington's most powerful figures of the last half cen­tury: secretaries of defense, OMB directors, governor, CIA director, majority leader, and vice president. But they had one thing above all in common. It was a special bond, a shared trial by fire that tran­scended their political differences: Every one of them had served as White House chief of staff As they gathered in the office they had all once occupied-now home to Joshua Bolten, George W. Bush's current chief-they min­gled and swapped stories. It had been Bolten's idea to bring all the former White House chiefs together after the election, to give his successor advice on how to do the job. Bolten guessed that of the thirteen living chiefs, maybe a half dozen would actually show up. But to his amazement, only Reagan's James Baker and Clinton's Erskine Bowles were no-shows. "It really was an amazing day," recalls John Podesta, Clinton's final chief, "because it was quite a collection of individuals: from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to me and Rahm. The span of ideology and politics, the span of history was all very present. And we all got the chance to give Rahm one piece of advice." Clin­ ton's gregarious former chief Leon Panetta, about to be tapped as Obama's CIA director, was in his element: "All of them were my close friends," he recalls. "And to have them together in that room to wish Rahm Emanuel the best in his entry into that rogues' gallery of chiefs of staff--that was a very special moment." The ghosts of presidencies past hovered around them. "It's a space where you feel the presence of history," Bolten would recall. "They were all transported back to their time in office." Dick Cheney, once the thirty-four-year-old chief of staff to Pres- ident Gerald Ford, pointed to the spot on the floor where Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, immobilized by a bad back, used to lie supine during meetings, declaiming on monetary and fiscal policy. A fire crackled in the corner fireplace below a magnificent oil portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Finally, Bolten called the gathering to order and herded his distinguished guests around a long table. At opposite ends sat two men whose political fortunes had been linked for a generation: Cheney, who would be vice president for six more weeks; and Rumsfeld, who had resigned under fire as defense secretary. It was Rumsfeld who had taken Cheney under his wing as a young political science grad student in the Nixon White House-- and then summoned him to serve as his deputy when he became Gerald Ford's chief of staff. Together they had helped Ford cobble together his "accidental presidency" after the trauma of Watergate; they had also watched helplessly as South Vietnam was overrun by Communist forces, bringing a bloody and ignominious end to the longest war in U.S. history. Thirty years later, during the Iraq War, Cheney, the protégé, would be called upon by George W. Bush to tell his mentor to step down as defense secretary. As the prime architects of another divisive conflict that was ending badly, Cheney and Rumsfeld had come full circle. Cheney was impressed by the morning's gathering. "This was unique in that you had all or nearly all of the living former chiefs of staff in the room at the same time," he recalls. And the irony of giving advice to Barack Obama's top adviser was not lost on him: "Obama had spent the better part of his campaign trashing us from one end of the country to the other. But he's our president. By that stage he'd won the election. And when you're all sitting around the table and getting ready to say, 'Here are the keys to the men's room,' you really do want to take advantage of the opportunity to say, 'Look, here's a couple of things that you really need to keep in mind.'" Presidential transitions are awkward, and Cheney had been through his share. "There's always a certain amount of hubris in­volved for the new crowd coming in: 'Well, if you guys are so smart, why did we beat you?' And so it can get a little tense at times, but you've got to overcome those things, because there aren't very many people who've run the White House. And there are valuable lessons to be learned. You really do want to try to equip the new guy with whatever wisdom you've acquired during the course of your time in office." It was a moment of bipartisanship that would seem almost incon­ceivable today, a throwback to a bygone era of civility. "There was a sense in that room,'' says Podesta, "among Republicans and Demo­ crats, that the country needed people to get together and find some leadership." Even the notoriously partisan Emanuel gave his Repub­lican counterparts the benefit of the doubt. "I think they knew how difficult this moment in time was historically,'' he recalls. "I think everyone was wishing the administration well." He did something few had ever seen him do before: He pulled out a pen and started to take notes. Going around the table, one at a time, Bolten asked his guests to give the incoming chief their advice. Fifty years of presidential history were represented, and no one knew that history better than Ken Duberstein. Cherubic and vol­uble, with a booming laugh, Brooklyn-born Duberstein had been Ronald Reagan's chief of staff during his last year in office, and the first Jew to hold the job. "President Reagan didn't hire me for my good looks,'' he liked to tell people. "He hired me because he knew that I would tell him straight-because that is the Brooklyn way." (After leaving the White House, he set up shop on Pennsylvania Avenue, offering strategic planning to corporate clients.) Duberstein had been chief for just six months--yet no one understood the job, or its nuances, better; not just companies, but presidents consulted him, hoping the Reagan magic might rub off. And few told more dramatic stories about being a witness to presidential history. At the height of the Cold War, accompanying Reagan to a speech at West Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, it was Duberstein who urged the president to ignore the objections of his State Department and deliver his iconic challenge to the Soviet Union: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Now, in another time of crisis, Duberstein spoke first. "Always remember," he said, looking at Emanuel, "that when you open your mouth, it is not you but the president who is speaking." Emanuel stared back at him. "Oh, shit !" he said. The chiefs erupted in laughter. Next up was Jack Watson. Now seventy, square-jawed and handsome, Watson looked like a movie star; that's what Jimmy Carter thought when the charismatic young Atlanta lawyer rode out on his motorcycle to meet the future president at his peanut farm more than forty years ago. As a young marine in an elite special operations unit, Watson had set an obstacle course record at Quantico that stood for more than twenty years; charming, earnest, and silver-tongued, he became a successful trial lawyer, and one of Carter's trusted advisers during his 1976 presidential campaign. "Jack isn't normal," says one of his colleagues. "I mean, he was injected with the perfect serum. If you want to criticize him, he's too good to be true." Watson had been put in charge of Carter's transition, and many believed he was a contender to become his White House chief of staff. But in a fateful decision that would hobble his presidency, Carter refused to appoint a chief. (Two and a half years later, Carter remedied that but then compounded his mistake by giving the job to a person who was unsuited to it, a brilliant but disorganized political strategist named Hamilton Jordan.) With less than eight months left in his term, Carter finally gave the job to Watson. In that brief period, Watson earned the respect of his peers for his keen grasp of the position--a job he likened to a " javelin catcher." He looked at Rahm and smiled. "Never forget the extraor­dinary opportunity you've been given to serve, and the privilege and responsibility that it represents," he said. "You are sitting next to the most powerful person in the world. Remember to value and appreci­ate that fact every single day you're here." John Podesta, the head of Obama's transition team, was next. Grandson of an Italian immigrant, son of a Chicago factory worker, Podesta had been bitten by the political bug as a college scholarship student back in 1970, when he volunteered for a Connecticut Senate campaign-and met a wonkish Yale Law School student named Bill Clinton. Decades later, in the Clinton White House, Podesta would succeed Erskine Bowles as chief of staff. In the throes of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Podesta was so well known for his hair-trigger temper that it was said he had an evil twin named "Skippy." But this morning he preached humility and patience. "You've got to slow down, and listen," he said. "You've got a lot of smart people who are in that building with you. And you've got to resist the temptation to always have the answer. Slow down, listen. You'll learn a lot and you'll make better decisions." Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, the Arkansas businessman who had been Bill Clinton's first chief of staff, knew better than anyone just how unforgiving the job could be. Courtly and charming, "Mack the Nice," as he was known, was liked by almost everyone in Wash­ington. But he had been a stranger to Capitol Hill and unschooled in its bare-knuckled wars. After a year and a half, with Clinton's agenda stymied and reelection in jeopardy, McLarty had agreed to step down as chief. But everyone in this room could empathize; they had all served at the whim of their presidents, and more than a few had been fired. Some thought McLarty was too kind, too gentlemanly for the job; if pressed, Mack might have agreed. "Try to keep some perspective about what you're doing and try to maintain your hu­manity," he told Rahm. "You don't always succeed. We're all human and we make mistakes. It starts with recognizing what a privilege it is to serve the president of the United States, but more importantly, the people of this country. Keep that in perspective and don't let it get out of proportion with this regal title of 'chief of staff.' " McLarty's admonition could have been aimed squarely at an- other man seated at the table, John Sununu. George H. W. Bush had picked the combative ex-governor of New Hampshire as his chief, hoping that Sununu's domestic policy chops would complement his own foreign policy expertise. Sununu liked to tell people--with a wink--that he was "just a warm, fuzzy pussycat." In fact, he flaunted his image as the president's son of a bitch like a badge of honor. Arrogant and confrontational, Sununu antagonized Congress, the press corps, and the White House staff alike. Later, when he was caught using government limousines and planes for personal trips, few came to his defense. Sununu would resign under a cloud. "You have to create a firewall between the president and those who are clawing to see the president," he told Rahm. "Even if it creates problems for the chief of staff. I was very good at creating problems for the chief of staff." Leon Panetta was probably the most popular person in the room. The son of Italian immigrants, jovial and outgoing, he was equally at home on his walnut farm in Monterey, California, and in the corridors of the West Wing. But as Bill Clinton's second chief-- replacing McLarty--Panetta had wielded an iron fist inside a velvet glove. When he arrived, Clinton's presidency was on the ropes, his ambitious agenda threatened by fights over gays in the military, the Whitewater scandal, and other distractions. The damage was self-inflicted, caused by Clinton's indiscipline and sloppy staff work. Panetta stepped in and brought discipline and focus to the White House--enabling Clinton to regain his traction and go on to win a second term. Now it was Panetta's turn to tutor Obama's incoming chief: "Always, always, be straight and honest with the president of the United States," he said. "Always tell him what he may not want to hear--because frankly, a lot of people in the White House will always tell the president what he wants to hear." Andrew Card, Bolten's predecessor, had set the modern record for longevity as chief: five years and three months under George W. Bush. Yet Card, who had served five presidents, was intimidated, almost awed by the company this morning. "These were truly his­ toric people who served during phenomenally historic times and it was quite compelling because they're all very wise," he would recall. When it came his turn, Card urged Rahm to protect the office of the presidency: "A lot of people aren't interested in protecting the in­stitution of the presidency, Article 2 in the Constitution. In fact, it's under attack almost all the time from Article 1, which is Congress, and Article 3, the courts. And there really aren't too many people at the White House that pay attention to that." Next, all eyes turned to Donald Rumsfeld. The pugnacious, suffer-no-fools architect of the Iraq invasion, George Bush's em­battled defense secretary had been asked to resign after the bungling of the occupation and the scandals at Abu Ghraib. Bolten, who had brought the chiefs together this morning, had been instrumental in Rumsfeld's firing. And yet, around this table Rumsfeld was respected for an earlier incarnation-as Gerald R. Ford's remarkably effective chief of staff. In the aftermath of the biggest scandal in American history, with Ford plummeting in the polls after his pardon of Richard Nixon for Watergate crimes, Rumsfeld had put Ford's presidency back on track. He had been a congressman and ambassador-and would be­ come a corporate CEO and defense secretary (twice). But Rumsfeld insisted that being Ford's White House chief was by far the toughest job he'd ever had: "It was like climbing into the cockpit of a crippled plane in flight and trying to land it safely." Rumsfeld had pulled Ford's presidency out of a nosedive. One of Rumsfeld's first acts as chief had been to appoint Cheney as his deputy. In an episode that would seal their friendship, Rums­feld had prevented Cheney's career from imploding. Faced with an FBI background check, Cheney confessed a secret: Out west, in his twenties, he had been arrested twice-and jailed-for drunk driv­ing. Rumsfeld (with Ford's blessing) stood by him. For men who decades later would become two of the most powerful and polarizing figures in American history, it was the beginning of a formidable alliance. Rumsfeld, the wily veteran, turned to Emanuel. "Immediately pick your successor," he told him. "And always remember: You are not indispensable." Emanuel could not resist taking a swing at this verbal softball. "Is that true for secretaries of defense?" he cracked. A roar of laughter went around the table. Even Rumsfeld forced a smile. Finally it was Cheney's turn to speak. Over eight years, the vice president had richly earned his reputation as the Darth Vader of the Far Right, the unapologetic author of the war on terror. But many of the men around this table had known a different Cheney. Decades earlier, succeeding Rumsfeld as chief, he'd been one of the most popular figures in Washington, helping Gerald Ford return from the dead politically and very nearly defeat Jimmy Carter. In that earlier incarnation, Cheney had been known for his humility and uncanny ability to forge consensus; his Secret Service moniker was "Back- seat." This supposedly kinder, gentler Cheney also had a wicked sense of humor and a fondness for elaborate practical jokes. The press corps loved him. In the years since, the debate over "What in the world happened to Cheney? " had become almost a parlor game among the chiefs. One theory was that he had been transformed by his experience as the powerful CEO of Halliburton. Others thought he had gone to the dark side in the 1980s, running secret "continuity of government" exercises (war games that simulated nuclear Armageddon). The truth was, Cheney's archconservative ideology was nothing new; he had always been "somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan," as one Ford colleague put it. But Cheney's world- view now seemed bleaker, his disposition darker. His close friend and colleague Brent Scowcroft, estranged from Cheney over the Iraq War, was convinced that his ex-friend's brushes with mortality had changed him (Cheney suffered five heart attacks before his transplant in 2012). "That's what a bad heart will do to a person," Scowcroft told me. The Iraq War also triggered fierce arguments between Cheney and James Baker, his former colleague and hunting partner. But Cheney's close friend David Hume Kennerly, Ford's White House photographer, insists that his supposed transformation was nonsense. He may have a point: Back in the 1970s Cheney had taken a job aptitude test. His ideal career match? An undertaker. Now the most powerful vice president in modern history, whose nickname was "Big Time," looked up at Emanuel over his glasses. "At all costs," he said gravely, "control your vice president." The chiefs erupted in the last round of laughter for the day. Cheney flashed a crooked smile. Following the meeting, the chiefs gathered outside Bolten's of­fice. Then they headed down the hall toward the Oval Office. Lead­ing the way was Bolten, who would be chief for six more weeks. At the rear, grasping a cane and clinging to his ex-deputy Ken Du­berstein, was Howard Baker Jr., now eighty-three and hobbled by Parkinson's disease. Waiting for them was George W. Bush. A presidency that had begun with one cataclysmic crisis, on September 11, 2001, was end­ing with another: the prospect of worldwide financial collapse. The personal toll it had taken on the president was apparent. A subdued Bush greeted them, with none of his trademark nicknames or quips. "I had seen and met President Bush many times," recalls Podesta. "But I thought to myself that morning how much the wear and tear of that office was lined into his face. He really looked like he was ready to wrap it up." The chiefs said their good-byes to the president and one another and departed. It had been a singular event, a rare gathering of one of the most remarkable fraternities in Washington. "Every president reveals himself," says historian Richard Norton Smith, "by the presidential portraits he hangs in the Roosevelt Room, and by the person he picks as his chief of staff." Like the commanders in chief who comprise the "President's Club," the chiefs are a band of battle-scarred brothers. (There are currently seventeen alive--none of them women, for reasons we will explore.) They have a remarkable mutual respect for their fellow members. "There is no secret handshake, but it is a special bond," says Sununu. Fierce partisans, the chiefs can be ruthless in pursuit of their presidents' agendas: H. R. Haldeman went to prison for perjuring himself in Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal. But they are bound together by the shared experience of having survived what may be the toughest job in Washington--so arduous that the average tenure is a little more than eighteen months. James A. Baker III, the Republican consigliere who served as chief of staff, Treasury secretary, and secretary of state, says: "You can very well make the argument that the White House chief of staff is the second-most-powerful job in government." In fact, the fate of every presidency arguably hinges on this little-understood position. The White House chief translates the president's agenda into reality. When government works, it is usually because the chief understands the fabric of power, threading the needle where policy and politics converge. Without Jim Baker's deft touch at managing the White House, the press and Capitol Hill--and the president's warring advisers--there would have been no Reagan Revolution. Similarly, Bill Clinton almost surely would have been a one-term president if Leon Panetta had not stepped in as chief of staff and brought discipline and order--not to mention record budget sur- pluses--to his White House. "Without a great chief of staff, a president frankly doesn't know what he is doing," says Robert Reich, Clinton's secretary of labor. During the last days of his presidency, Barack Obama observed: "One of the things I've learned is that the big breakthroughs are typically the result of a lot of grunt work--just a whole lot of blocking and tackling." Grunt work is what chiefs of staff do. Conversely, when government fails, it can often be traced to the shortcomings of the chief. The stakes that come with the job could not be higher. "All our presidents select for various positions cronies or political hangers-on or whatever," observed Theodore "Ted" So­rensen, John F. Kennedy's confidant. "But every president knows when he's picking his chief of staff, my God, he'd better get the right man in that job or he'll be ruined." Some of the great blunders of modern history have happened because a chief of staff failed to tell the president what he did not want to hear. Paying hush money to burglars to cover up the Watergate break-in, trading weapons to Iran for hostages, launching the Iraq War on dubious evidence, even bun­gling the online rollout of health care-all might have been avoided if the chiefs of staff had put these decisions through the rigors of a system designed to avoid disasters. Few chiefs have come through the experience unbloodied. "None of us is six four anymore," jokes five-foot-eight Duberstein, "even if we started out that way." "People ask me if it's like that television show The West Wing," says Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton's second chief. "But that doesn't begin to capture the velocity. In an average day you would deal with Bosnia, Northern Ireland, the budget, tax­ation, the environment-and then you'd have lunch! And then on Friday you would say, 'Thank God-only two more working days until Monday.'" Cheney blames the job for causing his first heart at­ tack. After he left the White House, Obama's Bill Daley came down with shingles-caused, he believes, by the stress. The man consid­ered the gold standard in the job, James Baker, found the experience so emotionally grueling and deeply painful that he went to Ronald Reagan and tried, unsuccessfully, to quit. Emanuel would discover just how relentless the job can be. Over the next twenty months, he would later tell me, there were no mo­ments of peace: "You're on the phone on the way home. You're on the phone during dinner, you're on the phone reading bedtime sto­ries to your kids-and you fall asleep before the book ends. And then you're woken up around three in the morning with something bad happening somewhere around the world.'' And yet Emanuel would not have traded the experience for any other. "Was it challenging? Was it brutal? Was it really tough?" he asks. "Would I have done it again? Absolutely. These experiences are gifts. They're to be cherished. And I guarantee you, every one of the chiefs would say, 'I would do it again if asked.' " This book is the story of men who define the presidencies they serve. It is the story of how Bob Haldeman, Nixon's self-proclaimed "son of a bitch," was widely blamed for causing Watergate. And in- deed, Haldeman's failure to speak hard truths to Nixon allowed the scandal to take root. And yet Haldeman's successors credit him with creating the model for the modern White House chief. There is no one-size-fits-all template; every president has different needs. But the "staff system" conceived by Haldeman is a model of governance designed to prevent calamity. Time and again, presidencies that have failed to follow it have paid a heavy price. It is the story of how two ambitious chiefs, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, managed to bring Gerald Ford back from political oblivion to the brink of victory over Jimmy Carter. It is the story of how Carter, the quintessential outsider and among the most intelligent presidents ever elected, thought he could act as his own chief, thereby crippling his presidency. It tells how James Baker redefined the job, mastered its nuances and--despite being the target of vicious infighting--made bipartisan government work; and how his successors Howard Baker and Ken Duberstein rescued Reagan from the Iran-Contra scandal. It explains how Leon Panetta (along with his deputies Bowles and Podesta) repaired Bill Clinton's broken presidency, fixing a dysfunctional White House and setting the stage for reelection. It is also the story of how George W. Bush, the politically gifted son of a president, overestimated his ability to govern--with disastrous consequences. The president who called himself "the decider" did not empower a chief of staff who could tell him what he did not want to hear or rein in his powerful advisers. Andy Card, his long- serving chief, would be no match for Cheney, who had mastered the levers of power decades earlier. This would have devastating results when it came to the Iraq War. The bitter internecine struggle among Bush's principal advisers would lead to a Shakespearean drama be­fore the invasion in early 2003-one that revealed an unspoken rift between the president and his father. Barack Obama's fortunes would also be profoundly affected by his chiefs of staff. A neophyte at governing, the first senator to be­ come president since Kennedy, Obama understood the significance of the position-he went out of his way to convene a secret meeting of Bill Clinton's former chiefs before he was elected. And indeed, with Emanuel at his side, Obama succeeded in staving off another Great Depression, saving the auto industry, and passing his land­ mark Affordable Care Act. But Emanuel's successors were less asser­tive. Obama's inability to pass legislation, his failure to get a grand bargain on the budget, and the bungled health-care rollout-all these debacles can be attributed not just to political gridlock, but to his chiefs. And yet Obama's final, and longest-serving chief, Denis McDonough, would help the president perfect the use of executive power to achieve seminal breakthroughs with the Paris Climate Ac­ cord, the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the diplomatic opening to Cuba. And for better or worse, Obama and McDonough would defy the foreign policy establishment by refusing to strike Syria in retali­ation for its use of chemical weapons. SINCE GEORGE WASHINGTON presidents have depended heavily on the advice and counsel of confidants. But it wasn't until nearly two centuries later that the first White House chief of staff emerged. The framers of the Constitution never envisioned anything like it. Unelected and unconfirmed, the chief serves at the whim of the president, hired and fired by him (or her) alone. And yet, in the modern era, no presidency has functioned effectively without one. In the winter of 1968, after one of the most bitterly contested election campaigns in American history, Richard Nixon hunkered down in a hotel suite in New York City. He had gone there to plan his presidency, and to get even with his enemies. With him was a man Nixon called his pluperfect son of a bitch, and Lord High Executioner: the man who would become the first truly modern White House chief of staff. Excerpted from The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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