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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 picksThrough 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 uniue 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 Ira War and even the bungled Obamacare rollout might have been prevented by a effective chiefFilled with shrewd analysis and never before reported details The Gatekeepers offers an essential portrait of the toughest job in Washington


10 thoughts on “The Gatekeepers How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency

  1. says:

    Chris Whipple offers a stunning look behind the curtain and into the depths of the West Wing wherein resides some of the most powerful unelected figures in the American political machine At the pinnacle of this group is a man for there has yet to be a woman in the role who wears the moniker Chief of Staff CoS Charged with keeping the various factions at bay and protecting the President of the United States POTUS the CoS serves primarily as a gatekeeper but also as the one whose job it is to fall on any political grenade and take the brunt of any blowback for decisions made in the Oval Office Whipple explores the role of Chief of Staff loosely formed under Eisenhower and how it became an essential part of every West Wing since Nixon rose to power in 1968 No POTUS has been without one save for the early years of Jimmy Carter who thought he could do it alone sometimes acting as a sounding board and at other times that sober second thought to prevent disaster Whipple explores each of the CoS who filled the role beginning with HR Haldeman who guided a cutthroat Nixon away from early disaster only to find himself stained with Watergate which led to the downfall of his boss Members who served in the role of Chief would make a name for themselves returning decades later to serve even important roles such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who guided the brief Ford presidency along some shaky tracks Others like James A Baker III would serve under Reagan but return to guide future presidents with key political advice read Bush 41 and 43 Even the likes of Obama’s picks to fill the role would not find themselves rooted for long especially Rahm Emanuel who was the first of four men to guide the troops under the last POTUS As Whipple argues throughout the role is not for the feint of heart or those who have a strong personal friendship with POTUS but rather reuires a backbone and the ability to say no to the Leader of the Free World especially at the most inopportune moments Whipple does a masterful job a recounting some of the behind the scenes moments and gives foundation to major events each POTUS faced showing how the CoS played a role in events even when they may not have wanted to step forward Of greatest interest looking ahead Whipple uses his findings to forecast the need for a strong person or persons to serve as CoS to the 45th POTUS prone to march to the beat of his own Twitter characters Political junkies will love this book which is not bogged down in too much minutiae though it is a sobering look for anyone with an inkling of political interestI approached this book as a lesser dose of politics in these deeply divisive days in America While not an American myself I have a keen interest in political history south of the Canadian border something that Whipple offers here Whipple uses key events and clashes between POTUS and CoS to illustrate that there were many times when decisions did not flow as smoothly as they might have appeared in front of the camera There are also numerous mentions of Chiefs having to rein in their bosses who were hellbent on making stupid mistakes placing ego before pragmatism With a narrative that entertains as well as educates Whipple draws on first hand interviews as well as documented evidence to provide the reader with as thorough a look behind the doors of power save when doing so might violate national security The reader can sit back and see the progression of the role of Chief of Staff though there were times when Chiefs refused to learn from their predecessors citing political or ideological reasons While the role is surely political Whipple argues that it is a shepherd herding sheep no matter their political stripe And wherever possible protecting the man in the Oval Office from political shrapnel Kudos Mr Whipple for such a wonderful piece I can only hope that I find of you work in the coming years as it was informative but not preachy Well worth the time invested Lovehate the review? An ever growing collection of others appears at Book for All Seasons a different sort of Book Challenge


  2. says:

    This is a fantastic book on American politics covering nearly 50 years of US presidents and their White House chiefs of staffI was keen to pick up The Gatekeepers after seeing it referenced in a news story when Reince Priebus Donald Trump's chief of staff was fired in July The book explains why the role of White House chief of staff is so important and has fascinating stories from the administrations of Richard Nixon Gerald Ford Jimmy Carter Ronald Reagan George H W Bush Bill Clinton George W Bush and Barack Obama When I started reading this book I didn't expect to get as engrossed in it as I did The stories were so interesting that I raced through it in two days amazed at how our political history continues to repeat itself Some of the players involved were so arrogant and egotistical that it damaged the administration; other times the president himself was so disorganized that even a disciplined chief of staff couldn't keep order After finishing this book I better understand how difficult that staff position really is and why it's considered such a powerful postWhile reading I freuently paused to marvel at how connected everyone is in Washington — it really is its own little world with the same people sticking around for decades So it shouldn't be a surprise that the young up and comers in the Ford administration two fellas by the names of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld later became such huge players in the GW Bush administration One of the biggest shocks I had reading this book was seeing Cheney described as a pleasant humble guy in the '70s Surprising right? Cheney was so despised and controlling during the GWB years that several people in the book commented on how much he had changed Sidenote I was also shocked by how presidents and their chiefs kept making the same mistakes often despite warnings from previous administrations and of hearing the same names pop up over and over again that I could have put on a tinfoil hat and run around shrieking WAKE UP PEOPLE EVERYTHING'S CONNECTEDThere are so many great stories from recent history in The Gatekeepers that I highly recommend it to anyone interested in American politics I'd also recommend it as a guide to managers often for examples of what NOT to do Favorite uotesYou have to be the person that says no You've got to be the son of a bitch who basically tells somebody what the president can't tell him — Leon Panetta chief of staff to Bill ClintonSomebody's got to be in charge Somebody's got to be the go to guy who can go into the Oval Office and deliver a very tough message to the president You can't do that if you got eight or nine guys sitting around saying 'Well you go tell him' — Dick Cheney chief of staff to Gerald FordA great president can get away with a mediocre chief of staff; a mediocre president can't possibly — Robert Reich


  3. says:

    I found this a most interesting book to read I learned a lot of information not only about the chief of staff but also about the president and his administration The chief of staffCOS is the highest ranking White House employee According to Whipple the chief of staff can make or break an administration The author states the chief of staff is the second most powerful job in government I found it most interesting to learn about the lessor known and written about but very important men I was unaware that President Jimmy Carter chose not to have a COS Whipple reviews the high and low points of past administrations’ chief of staffs I was most interested in HR Haldeman President Nixon’s COS and Leon Panetta President Clinton’s COS I had forgotten that Dick Cheney was President Ford’s COS The book is well written and meticulously researched The author interviews the seventeen living chief of staffs Apparently there have been 28 COS’s since 1968 Whipple enhanced the narrative with his many interviews Whipple’s writing style is very easy to read and he tosses in some humor Whipple provides a valuable understanding of the positon and its duties Whipple is a journalist and this comes through in his writingI read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible The book is almost 12 hours long Mark Bramhall does a good job narrating the book Bramhall is an actor and award winning audiobook narrator


  4. says:

    At a time when the oval office is occupied by a man who seems to know no bounds of decency when it comes to race hounds people who disagree with him on twitter and vilifies individuals who he views as disloyal or refuse to do his bidding like former FBI head James Comey or Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller it is refreshing to read Chris Whipple’s new book THE GATEKEEPERS HOW THE WHITE HOUSE CHIEFS OF STAFF DEFINE EVERY PRESIDENCY Recently President Trump fired his Chief of Staff Reince Pribus a man who had little influence over the President Since Trump is enad with generals he finally convinced John Kelley a former Marine general to become his new Chief of Staff Kelly made it clear his role was not to reign in the President but to bring order and efficiency to the West Wing It is clear that Kelly does not totally subscribe to the historical role of the Chief of Staff as defined by Leon Panetta who successfully rescued Bill Clinton’s presidency who states that “you have to be the person who says no You’ve got to be the son of a bitch who basically tells somebody what the president can’t tell him” If you had hoped that Kelly would influence or temper Trump’s tweets and actions all you have to do is evaluate the President’s reaction to events in Charlottesville his rally in Phoenix his reaction to the ongoing Russia investigation and his pardon of Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of Maricopa AZWhipple does the American people a service by describing and evaluating the men who have served as Chiefs of Staff dating back to the presidency of Richard Nixon In each case we see individuals battle to keep the Chief Executive on message fully briefed on issues and to project themselves as presidential unlike the dysfunctional situation that currently plagues the White House The key for the Chief of Staff is to instill discipline and focus on the West Wing as Leon Panetta was able to do to get Clinton reelected in 1996 The most important task for the Chief of Staff is to always tell the President what he may not want to hear Whipple is correct that the role of the Chief of Staff is to translate the president’s agenda into reality “When the government works it is usually because the chief understands the fabric of power threading the needle where policy and politics converge” For example without James Baker who stood between the press Congress and internal factions Reagan’s presidency would have been a failure Further without Leon Panetta to bring discipline and order to the White House Clinton would have been a one term president; without Robert Kennedy John F Kennedy had to deal with the Bay of Pigs; Lyndon Johnson did not have a strong Chief of Staff and he was swallowed by Vietnam As President Eisenhower told Richard Nixon “every president has to have its own son of a bitch”One of the most surprising points that Whipple makes is that the most advanced model of organizational structure at the White House was developed by HR Haldeman the problem is that he did not follow his own ideas resulting in Watergate For later Chiefs of Staff eventually they would fall back to Haldeman’s structure Other surprising points include the career of Dick Cheney who was a sensational organizer during his tenure as Chief of Staff under President Ford and almost got Ford reelected in 1976 but when he became Vice President under George W Bush his entire world view had changed as he morphed into the defacto chief Many have conjectured why and point to 911’s impact as being responsibleThe chief that one should not model was Hamilton Jordan who served under Jimmy Carter Jordan was not interested in the nitty gritty of policy and found basic White House protocol incomprehensible Jordan exacerbated his situation by his continual offending of Congressional leadership What made matters worse for Jordan was when Carter was elected the new president believed he was “the smartest person in the room” and acted as his own chief and the net result was the seeming failure of the Carter presidency despite his energy policy the Camp David Accords arms control and the Panama Canal Treaty The opposite of Carter was Ronald Reagan who didn’t think he was the smartest person in the room and knew how to delegate and have a strong Chief of Staff Apart from Iran Contra Reagan’s presidency is seen as a success as Baker made Reagan understand the political process of the presidency would be closely linked to his acceptance in Washington something Carter never bought into and navigating between the ideologues and pragmatists that served the presidentThe strength of Whipple’s book is how he reviews the highs and lows of each administration by focusing on the actions of the diverse Chiefs of Staff who organized the West Wing and made it run efficiently By doing so Whipple explains the strategies and actions taken and judges whether their approach to governance was effective or not In the process the history of each administration is dealt with and at times Whipple uncovers “nuggets” that have not been covered effectively by other authors A case in point is the reputation of Leon Panetta and by turning the Clinton administration around he proved you didn’t have to be “a bully or an attack dog to be an effective Chief of Staff You just have to be very smart You have to know when to be tough and also when to let the reigns be a little looser” The Clinton administration also produced Erskine Bowles and John Podesta who demanded that Clinton treat them as peers despite their friendships and were able to be honest and upfront with him which led to a balanced budget the States Children’s health Insurance Plan and the survival of the Lewinsky AffairAndrew Card who would have the longest tenure as a chief saw James Baker as a role model but 911 would produce a new “Dick Cheney” Whipple explores why this occurred conjecturing with CBS’ Bob Schieffer that it could have been his heart condition that was responsible Whipple reviews the debate and actions that led to the ill fated invasion of Ira He does not really add anything new to the discussion but what emerges is a marginalized Card who could not navigate between Powell Rice Rumsfeld and the Vice President One of the most controversial chiefs was Rahm Emanuel who served under President Obama Whipple does an excellent job explaining the different factions within the Obama administration and Emanuel’s role particularly guiding legislation through Congress as he was able to overcome the scars left over from the Clinton administration in gaining the passage of the Affordable Care Act Once Emanuel is replaced Whipple is dead on in explaining why Emanuel’s replacement William Daley was a failure in his short stint at the White House and how Dennis McDonough was able to counter Obama’s “Chicago crowd” as like Emanuel he was a strong communicator something that Daley was not In a sense by reviewing each Chief of Staff’s tenure Whipple has created a handbook for President Trump’s Chief of Staff He does so by presenting a theoretical approach to the position but also the realities that each man faced The political pragmatism that is needed to be successful emerges under the auspices of Baker Emanuel Panetta and others a characteristic that seems to be missing in the current White House Whipple writes with the journalistic flair one would expect from a multiple Peabody and Emmy award winner and in the current environment there are many people in power who should consult it If the Trump presidency eventually is unsuccessful in reaching its goals Whipple has already explained why


  5. says:

    45 This book describes the evolution of the position of the modern White House Chief of Staff from the presidency of Richard Nixon to that of Barak Obama The book was published in 2017 and there is the briefest of epilogues taking a superficial view of the first few months of the Trump presidency during the tenure of Reince Priebus and on into the beginning of John Kelly’s service It’s almost unfair to make judgments about a presidency that was not yet a year along Whipple had interviewed all the living former chiefs of staff for his 2013 documentary called The President’s Gatekeepers and this book doubtless arose out of that film The book is clearly written and easy enough to follow along As someone old enough to remember all these characters reading the book served as sort of a walk down memory lane Whipple’s approach is largely pragmatic He calls the chief of staff the second most powerful job in Washington The chief is first a gatekeeper but he all of them were men also serves to speak for the president to speak the truth to the president and to keep channels open with Congress and others with the power to enact the president’s wishes The job is brutally demanding by any standard Whipple doesn’t choose favorites by party line affiliation; instead he looks at how well the chief has served his president Ronald Reagan’s second chief Howard H Baker Jr is clearly everyone’s favorite As Reagan was not an expert in many things he needed to be an effective president Baker’s work filled in and made Reagan into a successful president Reagan for his part knew enough to name Baker and to work well with him On the other hand Jimmy Carter’s view of himself as the one who ought to do everything prevented him from naming a chief for uite a while an action which fatally damaged his presidency Carter’s chapter is aptly titled “The smartest man in the room”I don’t usually read too many books of this sort so it’s difficult for me to evaluate how accurate or insightful it really is On the other hand I enjoyed reading it and most of what Whipple wrote made sense And most of what the chiefs themselves said during their meetings to discuss the position and to offer assistance to a new president also made sense I especially enjoyed the introduction to the book which describes a December 5 2008 meeting of twelve of the former chiefs with Rahm Emmanuel who was about to become Obama’s chief They all saw the severity of the economic situation and were there to offer advice Whipple titles this short chapter “I brought my pillow and my blankie” a statement attributed to Emmanuel and indicative of how frightened he was of the enormity of the job ahead 2 And I also could not help noticing what the former chiefs who showed up eight years later on December 16 2016 to advise Reince Priebus had to say Ten chiefs Republicans and Democrats showed up; and as they gathered around the long table in McDonough’s Denis McDonough was Obama’s fourth and last chief office none doubted the enormity of the challenge facing Priebus “We wanted to help Reince in any way we could” said Jack Watson who served Jimmy Carter “But I don’t think there was a chief in the room that thought he was going to be able to do the job given Trump as his president” Most of the former chiefs believed Trump was intellectually and temperamentally unfit for office—and few thought Priebus could rein him in or tell him hard truths “We were thinking ‘God bless him Godspeed and Good luck’” said Watson “But he doesn’t have a prayer” 297 98 All in all an interesting book and a good read I bet the documentary was a pleasure too although I have not seen it


  6. says:

    I loved this book because of its inside look into one of the most powerful and most difficult positions in the world the White House Chief of Staff Chris Whipple is an excellent journalist and in his hands this book reads like a fascinating documentary He interviews all 17 living Chiefs of Staff and throughout the book I found myself turning to my husband and saying Did you know? and Listen to this This is probably one of the first books that I've ever read aloud parts to him because it was so fascinating and full of newsworthy information and some juicy tidbits that was simply new to me If you enjoy reading about American politics and Presidents or if you just enjoy watching the West Wing you'll definitely want to read this well written book I predict that The Gatekeepers will win some literary honors for non fiction in 2017 and will definitely be included on the best of year end lists Many thanks to Crown Publishing and NetGalley for allowing me to read an ARC in exchange for an honest review


  7. says:

    Awesome I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book Whipple created an accounting of the White House Chiefs of Staff from Nixon through Obama The successful and the not so successful The successful ones were given the authority to actually control the fire hose of information coming into the President And to prevent the people who attempted to go around them to reach the President with what they thought were uniue and special needs Similar to the military a lieutenant does not jump the chain of command and go directly to the general he goes through channels Otherwise the General President would be overwhelmed with opinions and subject to following the most influential talker regardless of facts As I finished reading this book I was left with a feeling of awe in how well some of the Chief of Staffs could herd cats successfully It takes a real talent I read a lot of political history books and this one ranks up there with the best It fills in a lot of holes and explains a lot of actions that I wondered about in my reading of presidential memoirs Highly recommended


  8. says:

    I’ve been on a bit of a Presidential bio kick lately working towards a goal of reading at least one biography on each of our 45 Presidents Those biographies naturally tend to focus heavily on the President and his decisions with only a cursory examination of the other key players in a presidential administration With a few exceptions the Chief of Staff did not figure prominently in the narrative the two exceptions being HW Brands’ Reagan The Life and James Cannon’s Gerald R Ford An honorable Life Naturally I failed to grasp what a huge role the Chief of Staff plays in the success or failure of a presidential administration I try not to give a lot of books 5 stars and only do so if it meets some specific criteria One of those criteria is if a book significantly influences my way of thinking about a subject This book did that It’s fair to say that the information in this book will remain in the forefront of my mind as I continue my journey through presidential biographies Indeed it comes to mind constantly as the drama of the Trump Administration unfolds daily before us The version I read ends with Obama but the author recently published an article covering the first year of the Trump AdministrationThat said the book is not perfect A few times I felt the author was overselling his case a bit in order to defend his thesis After reading this it would be all too easy to conclude that every failure was the result of the Chief of Staff when that is clearly not the case Still that is a minor uibble The only truly disappointing section of the book is the chapter on George W Bush The author barely mentions Bush’s two chiefs of staff at all choosing instead to cover the blunder of the Ira War Andrew Card was chief of staff for five years yet we learn next to nothing about what he actually did The author implies that Cheney kind of took over but doesn’t follow that aspect of the story through to a satisfying end He should have kept coming back to what Card was or was not doing what Cheney had wrestled away and why that wasn’t working for the Bush Administration Instead we get a rehashed account of the decision making leading up to the Ira War I thought about knocking my rating down to 4 stars for this but I feel the book truly did revolutionize the way I look at a presidential administration and think that alone justifies the 5 star ratingWhat follows are my notes on the bookThe fate of every presidency arguably hinges on this little understood position The chief of staff translates the president’s agenda into reality When government fails it can often be traced to the shortcomings of the chief The executive branch has the most awesome responsibilities of any corporation in the world the largest budget of any corporation in the world and the largest number of employees Yet the entire management structure has to be formed in a period of 75 daysHR “Bob” Haldeman and Richard NixonNeither Kennedy nor Johnson had a true chief of staff Kennedy achieved little and Johnson was driven from office defeated Nixon brought in a lot of strong idiosyncratic personalities and needed a “tough SOB” to keep them in line Haldeman would be that man Haldeman read everything he could on how to organize the White House He devised the staff system used by every president since Nothing would go to the president that wasn’t staffed out for lateral coordination and reviewed by competent staff No one was to be permitted to “end run” the staff process and pitch their own agendas directly to the president An image sprang up that Haldeman was isolating the president and preventing him from hearing diverse views he needed to make informed decisions But that narrative wasn’t true Haldeman actually worked to get people in to see a president who was pathologically shy and who preferred memos to meetings Haldeman had become adept at shelving many of Nixon’s orders that were beyond the pale But some of the president’s other confidants were less sueamish People like Chuck Colson and Ehrlichman began meeting with the president privately creating the end run situation Haldeman had worked so hard to prevent The Watergate Scandal ensued not because Haldeman had isolated the president but because people stopped following his systemDonald Rumsfeld Dick Cheney and Gerald FordWhen Ford came in he initially kept the overbearing General Alexander Haig in place during his transition From the start Ford announced that he would govern with eight or nine advisors reporting directly to him a “spokes of the wheel” approach Inevitably his White House resembled a kids’ soccer game everyone running toward the ball The undisguised contempt between Ford loyalists and the Nixon holdovers didn’t help the situation meaning Haig was often cut out of the loop Staffers and cabinet secretaries would come and go into Ford’s office as they pleased to get him to sign things The free for all meant there was no way to record what was discussed or decided Donald Rumsfeld who had been running his transition warned him that the approach he had used in congress would not translate to the executive branch but Ford was adamant Rumsfeld left for his new job at NATO Ford’s surprise pardoning of Nixon created a firestorm in both the White House and the across the country The chaos that ensued led Ford to conclude that Rumsfeld was right and he was brought back in as the new Chief of Staff in exchange for a promise to be appointed to a cabinet post at a future date Rumsfeld curtailed the free for all access to the president and made it clear the trains would run on time The workload was tremendous and Rumsfeld brought in Dick Cheney to be his deputy Rumsfeld was the tough SOB that the nice guy Ford needed to keep things in order Rumsfeld clashed with VP Rockefeller and convinced the President that his promise to let Rockefeller be in charge of the administration’s domestic agenda was ludicrous Rumsfeld would staff Rockefeller’s proposals out which killed many of his big spending proposals Cheney then genial and self effacing proved to be a valuable deputy and his eventual promotion to Chief of Staff when Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense was universally welcomed He had a softer management style but was every bit as firm as Rumsfeld had been The performance of Rumsfeld and Cheney kept the administration moving and almost won the president a second term in spite of the overwhelming oddsHamilton Jordan Jack Watson and Jimmy CarterAttorney Jack Watson was one of Carter’s closest advisors Watson believed Carter was always the smartest man in the room and was uite possibly the smartest president we’ve ever had Cheney had warned the incoming president that the whole “spokes of the wheel” approach was a recipe for disaster but Carter and his advisors were suspect of anything that resembled Nixon’s imperial presidency They wanted a return to the JFKLBJ model of a White House without a chief Carter chose not to appoint Watson as chief of staff Watson’s rival Hamilton Jordan didn’t want the positions or its responsibilities yet he moved into the chief’s office next to the president’s Jordan would also antagonize congressional leaders by refusing to return phone calls Carter was unable to prioritize and without a chief of staff there was nobody to sort through the thicket and force him to stay on track Carter’s response was to work even harder As the crises continued to mount Carter realized the spokes of the wheel approach wasn’t working and even the true believers were becoming disillusioned with the president As the Iranian Hostage Crisis dragged on and Reagan gained in the polls Carter finally appointed Watson as his chief Watson belatedly got the White House Staff functioning again but it made little difference with all the mounting crises inflation unemployment sky high interest rates Iran Hostage crisis etc Reagan beat Carter in a landslide James A Baker III and Ronald ReaganEd Meese was the likely candidate for Reagan’s chief of staff but he was habitually horrendously disorganized Baker was a close friend of Bush and worked on his campaign Baker impressed both Ronald and Nancy and he accepted the job While Carter was “the smartest man in the room” Reagan was considered an “affable dunce” Baker was brilliant and a pragmatist he would spend the next four years battling the ideologues in the administration Baker worked out a deal with Meese Meese would be special counselor to the president and in charge of policy while he would control the paperwork speechwriting and access to the president Under this arrangement Baker cleverly seized control of the levers of power Baker met with his predecessor Watson for lessons learned Reagan had a few core beliefs reducing government a strong military and cutting taxesbut he needed a chief of staff to work out the details on how to achieve these goals After the assassination attempt Baker sensed an opportunity and he helped to push through tax reform Reagan was prepared to make deals with Democrats in order get some of his priorities through Baker facilitated that give and take kept the president from touching any third rails that would harm his presidency like Reagan’s desire to make social security voluntary The infighting wore Baker down and he kept his eye open for an off ramp When Secretary of Treasury Don Regan proposed they swap jobs he agreed and they went before the president who accepted the plan without uestionDon Regan Howard Baker Jr Kenneth Duberstein and Ronald ReaganUnlike Baker Regan focused on the “Chief” part of his title and not the “staff” part Regan began constantly appearing on TV and in pictures next to the president instead of working behind the scenes The first big controversy was on the 40th anniversary of WWII when Reagan was to lay a wreath at a German cemetery that unbeknownst to them also held the graves of some Waffen SS Regen ducked responsibility and a rift grew between Regen and Nancy Reagan The NYT published stories saying Regan was the power behind the throne and angry phone calls began to grow between Regan and Nancy The press picked up on a story in a Lebanese newspaper that the US had traded weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages held in Lebanon Unbeknownst to Reagan members of the NSC were taking some of that money and clandestinely diverting it to the Contras in Nicaragua It is almost impossible to imagine this scandal occurring if Baker had remained as chief In a heated phone call Regan hung up on Nancy sealing his fate Former Senate Majority leader Howard Baker was brought in as the new Chief Baker’s wife had cancer so Duberstein was brought in as an assistant and began carrying much of the load They began to turn the ship back around The President’s televised speech admitting mistakes with the Iran Contra scandal appeased the American people Reagan was a people person that’s how he learned Regan had closed the door to the Oval Office Baker and Duberstein filled their rolls as gatekeepers but got people moving through again With Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech in Berlin Duberstein had returned Reagan to the starring roleJohn Sununu Samuel Skinner James A Baker III and George HW BushSununu was the opinionated and pugnacious governor of New Hampshire He already had two strikes against him that should have been warning signs he had already been a “principal” as Regan had and he was an outsider to Washington Bush recognized Reagan was different that he needed a director but Bush wanted something different The press had accused him of being spineless and uninspiring Bush was determined to be seen calling the shots not his chief Many of Bush’s decisions like his VP selection were often total surprises known only to himself Sununu had a hair trigger was overbearing and often cussed out the staff thinking everyone would view him as tough His deputy Andy Card thought otherwise and when Sununu’s troubles mounted had few friends to back him up On foreign policy Bush’s team worked together harmoniously Bush adroitly managed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War Though his calm handling of these situations was portrayed as emotionless and uncaring in the press But when trying to pivot to his domestic agenda Sununu proved a liability His scorched earth approach was alienating his own staff and members of congress Oblivious to the sharks circling Sununu was caught using military aircraft for personal travel and resigned Samuel Skinner a Chicago businessman was brought in who was immediately overwhelmed Bush was in the midst of his annus horribilis throwing up on the Japanese prime minister an economic slump and faced third party challenger Perot To save his presidency he turned to a trusted friend James A Baker III Baker began to turn the ship but was brought in too late to make a difference and Bush lost to Clinton Thomas McLarty Leon Panetta Erskine Bowles John Podesta and Bill ClintonClinton was a brilliant politician but undisciplined In a last minute seat of the pants move he brought in Thomas McLarty a friend from Arkansas to be his Chief of Staff The White House would start out without any organization Meetings would go on for hours people would just wander into the Oval Officeit was a mess McLarty would prove too nice to enforce discipline or tell the president “no” Ambitious aides and liberal factions began jostling for the president’s favor Clinton was easily knocked off message A frustrated Hillary brutally critiued the chief’s management of the staff Clinton had some successes NAFTA but his signature issues were stalled and his administration paralyzed Clinton was still trying to be everything to everyone McLarty was out and OMB Director Leon Panetta was brought in Panetta was shocked how informally the White House was run McLarty didn’t even have an organizational chart of the staff Panetta brought in Bowles as his deputy They analyzed the president’s schedule showing him where his time was going and comparing that to what he said his priorities were Panetta also too charge as gatekeeper After the Republicans retook the House in 94 Panetta and Bowles helped Clinton prepare for his faceoff with Gingrich and the month long government shutdown that followed Little did Panetta know Dick Morris had slipped in behind his back as Clinton’s ghost advisor Panetta recognized Clinton needed Morris and worked out a compromise where Morris stayed on as an advisor but did not have any power over the staff As Panetta put the ship back on course Clinton won reelection When Panetta left after his second year Bowles moved up to be the new chief Bowles constantly fought to keep the President on track whenever he came out of his office with his next great idea Bowles was devastated when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke Bowles couldn’t bring himself to deal with it and left in the fall of 98 Clinton’s fourth and final chief was John Podesta Podesta was determined to keep the presidency moving but had to deal with the challenges of Gore running for president and Hillary running for the Senate Podesta championed the use of executive power to achieve smaller objectives Andrew Card Joshua Bolten and George W BushWith Bush’s election Cheney and Rumsfeld were coming home to the White House Andrew Card a close friend of the family was the new Chief of Staff Card was organized and efficient Baker was his role model but understood that Bush like his father didn’t appreciate the idea of the chief of staff being the power behind the throne Traditionally the chief of staff has power than the Vice President The events of 911 transformed Bush’s presidency and vaulted Cheney into a position of prominence Typically the VP has trouble even getting into the Oval Office for lunch but now decisions were flowing through Cheney Cheney and Rumsfeld would lead the push for the Ira Invasion Despite serving than five years in the position Card is barely mentioned again in the rest of the chapter and the author dives into the Ira War After Card resigned OMB Director Joshua Bolten was called in as the new chief Bolten felt Bush was not well served by his security apparatus Rather than bringing him options they were bringing him a strategy to bless Bolten was instrumental in pushing Rumsfeld out as Secretary of Defense 911 started his presidency the financial crisis would end it Bush was told by his advisors that we were on the brink of another Great Depression Despite it violating his beliefs he swallowed the medicine being offered and signed the 700B Troubled Asset Relief Program TARP to bail out Wall StreetRahm Emanuel William Daley Jacob Lew Denis McDonough and Barack ObamaA month before the election Obama held a secret meeting to begin considering who would hired by the administration Panetta and Bowles both turned down offers to be his chief of staff Congressman Rahm Emanuel uickly gained the attention of Obama With control of both houses of Congress there was a tremendous opportunity to generate change While Rahm certainly filled the “tough SOB” character the job reuired he too struggled with keeping factions of moderates and true believers in check After pushing through the stimulus package Obama overrode Emanuel to focus on healthcare reform Once given his marching orders Emanuel was laser focused and relentless twisting arms and cutting deals with congressmen and the pharmaceutical industry James Baker believed Obama blundered in his hands off approach letting Congress write the legislation for his #1 priority The bill passed on a party line vote and the Democratic majority was wiped out in the next election When Chicago Mayor Daley retired Emanuel left to pursue that position Former JPMorgan executive Bill Daley was brought in as the new chief in hopes of countering the anti business image of the administration With no knowledge of the government’s inner workings he was a bad fit from the start When the “Grand Bargain” fell apart over the intransigence of the Tea Party the focus shifted overseas toward the Bin Laden raid It was a rare moment of triumph for Daley In 2011 the White House announced Daley would share responsibilities with Pete Rouse cutting his legs out from under him Frustrated and bitter Daley resigned OMB Director Jack Lew was brought in Lew remained only a short time before being nominated to replace Geithner as treasury secretary Denis McDonough came in and instilled some discipline it probably didn’t hurt that Jarret and the Chicago Mafia had departed by this time Still Obama was too much like Carter smart but unsocial They never mastered the give and take needed to get things done in DC McDonough argues that the environment shifted and this criticism is unfairthey didn’t have to deal with the hyper partisan environment like he did McDonough’s greatest failure involved the botched rollout of healthcaregov Obama had been asking for months if everything was good but McDonough never ensured the system was properly tested It was an embarrassing failure on the President’s signature issue Obama focused on executive orders to get his agenda through Obama’s decision not to enforce his red line in Syria occurred after one of his “wrap sessions” with McDonough on the White House lawn


  9. says:

    uick read filled with plenty of interesting anecdotes across several administrations but perhaps because of the key role the chief of staff plays across a host of issues the book often tends to get side tracked into discussions of the major challenges or scandals that consumed those administrations leading the nominal focus on the chiefs to drift Underscores the importance of the role but aside from a few highly generalized takeaways chief of staff has to be an honest broker of the interagency has to be able to tell the president he’s about to do something dumb there’s not a lot here


  10. says:

    More reviews at TheBibliophagecomAs I was reading Chris Whipple’s book The Gatekeepers I couldn’t help but notice how much access he had to the group of 17 White House Chiefs of Staff since Nixon’s HR Haldeman Then I learned that the book was the byproduct of a documentary series on Discovery That explains a lot about the number of interviews Whipple was given by this large group of political insiders However it should only serve to make you interested in reading the book not less We spend so much time in history class discussing the accomplishments of various Presidents But unless you’re a political wonk you may not know much about the Chief of Staff who’s essentially the Chief Operating Officer of the White House The President is the visionary and the Chief is the guy who takes the vision and translates it to action And as we know from experience during the last eight plus years creating results from those actions isn’t easy or uick I think that’s what struck me the most from Whipple’s research and interviews Being Chief of Staff is a massive amount of work It’s truly 247365 So much so that most Chiefs are only in that position for two years The Chief needs to be political and have connections all over Washington It’s how things get accomplished But some Presidents have chosen people from their home territory as their Chief Whipple explains the pitfalls of such a choice The other thing Whipple makes clear is the relationship that Presidents have with their Chiefs The Chief is the guy who’s willing to tell the President when something is a bad idea Again the interviewees shared the good the bad and the ugly Reading the book felt like I had a side chair alongside the Oval Office’s iconic Resolute desk Whipple’s writing style is conversational and smooth He takes one long chapter for each administration starting with the transition period where one administration plans to replace the last He finds just the right balance between details and overview never getting lost in the minutiae Somehow Whipple remains focused on the Chief’s perspective which was uniue and enlightening for me After reading The Gatekeepers my appreciation for Chiefs of Staff especially those holding the position for than two years has grown exponentially This unelected and unconfirmed by the Senate position is held by men with tremendous power and responsibility They are wranglers negotiators power brokers and insomniacs I highly recommend this captivating view into the corridors of the West WingThanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for the opportunity to read the digital ARC in exchange for this honest review