Kelly, McDonough, Card Discuss Managing The White House

At a Glance

  • Chiefs of Staff for the last three U.S. Presidents spoke with Katie Couric about their former 24/7 roles
  • Seeking multiple perspectives, curiosity cited as key attributes of a President

Since it was enacted as an official White House position in 1946, 33 men have held the role of  White House Chief of Staff. And no one in the last 60 years has held the position longer than Andrew Card, who served under President George W. Bush for nearly six years.

So who better to define what exactly a Chief of Staff does?

“The job is to pay attention to everything in the President’s life, not just the responsibility of doing the job,” Card said to an audience at the Global Financial Leadership Conference in Naples, Florida, describing the job as round the clock because “you never know when the President has to make the tough decision.”

Card was joined by John Kelly, former Chief of Staff to President Trump and Denis McDonough, who served as President Obama’s Chief of Staff for four years, in a panel moderated by Katie Couric.

Kelly highlighted the need for a President to hear from people with different perspectives on an issue before making a decision.

“The worst thing that could happen, whether it’s a general or admiral, Secretary of Defense or a President is to have one person come in and give one recommendation, one side of the issue, and have the President say ‘yeah, let’s do that’,” said Kelly. He gave the example of a Secretary of Defense having an objective that could harm issues outside their purview, such as commerce or trade.

As an election year approaches in the United States, Couric asked about the job of being President, and how a Chief of Staff must guide the decision-making process.

“We pick a President in an election usually to deal with the issues that we argue about,” said Card. “The truth is, the greatest challenge a President has is to deal with are the issues that he or she doesn’t want to deal with. We require them to keep their oath when it won’t be easy.”

Card used the example of how President Bush faced the September 11 attacks. McDonough discussed how the Obama White House dealt with the administration’s new health care website crashing on its first day.

In an interview with OpenMarkets, Kelly suggested that no person is fit to be President, and that anyone seeking the job must understand it will take many experts in many areas to effectively make the right decisions on any issue.

McDonough cited curiosity as the key element he would look for in a President. And in a question from Couric about the divisive nature of politics today, expressed optimism.

“President Obama used to say ‘change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington’,” he said. “In that regard, I think younger, new, more diverse voices reflecting the kinds of things we still see in our armed forces, our foreign service, in our intelligence services and our civil service. People you wouldn’t know if they’re Republican or Democrat, they’re just doing. I think that’s going to come around.”

Watch more from the discussion in the video above.


Evan Peterson is director of corporate marketing at CME Group and managing editor of OpenMarkets.

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