Dennis Brown | October 5, 2017
When asked Wednesday night (Oct. 4) at the Notre Dame Forum about the most important job of a White House chief of staff, Andrew Card joked: “The greatest challenge is the care and feeding of the president.”
Card, chief of staff for President George W. Bush, then added: “Seriously, the most important thing is to make sure the president is in a good mood. I never wanted the president to make a decision when he was in a bad mood. The president never makes an easy decision.”
Denis McDonough, chief of staff to President Barack Obama, added: “The most important thing is make sure you’re sensitive to the president’s time. Don’t overload him with decisions he doesn’t need to make.”
The two men spoke to an audience of more than 1,100 as part of the 2017 Notre Dame Forum, “Going Global: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities of Globalization.” They focused their remarks on foreign policy from their perspectives as chief confidants to Bush and Obama.
However, moderator Maura Policelli from Notre Dame’s new Keough School of Global Affairs did take time to ask about their thoughts on the current administration.
Without mentioning the communications practices of President Donald J. Trump, Card, a Republican, quickly responded: “I have a rule: Taste your words before you spit them out. The words that a president uses are very, very significant. They impact the White House staff, they create a climate that Congress then has to consider, they motivate people, they generate emotions and they sometimes call others to action.
“It is critical that presidents be careful with the words they use and not be impulsive.
“I give the (current) White House poor marks for decisions with words and high marks for internal discipline within the White House staff. I’m not sure the discipline has extended into the Oval Office as it should.”
McDonough added: “One of the things that used to drive me crazy inside the White House was the commentary on how things got done and less on what gets done. So, I will reserve my judgments and wait for the results.
“But, I think there’s enough to be concerned about. I want, as Andy said, the president and (current chief of staff) John Kelly to succeed because I want to make sure the country succeeds. If we continue on this path with climate change or North Korea, for example, then I’m afraid we won’t.”
Card and McDonough were integrally involved in two of the most historic events in recent U.S. history and the nation’s war on terror. Card whispered, “America is under attack” into Bush’s ear on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the president was meeting with a group of second grade students at a Florida school.
Before becoming chief of staff, McDonough served as deputy national security adviser. It was in that role that he was among the small group joining Obama in the White House Situation Room on May 1, 2011, when Navy SEALs raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.