Gatekeepers: White House Chiefs of Staff

Chris Whipple
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 6:00pm

Denis McDonough
Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama (2013 – 2017)
Andy Card
President Franklin Pierce University (2014-2016)
Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush (2001-2006)
Mack McLarty
Chairman, McLarty Associates
Chief of Staff to President William Clinton (1993 -1994)
Chris Whipple (moderator)
Documentary Filmmaker and writer
Author, The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency

Andy Card, Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush, Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, and Mack McLarty, Chief of Staff to President William Clinton, joined moderator Chris Whipple, documentary filmmaker and author, for a panel discussion on the duties, privileges, and challenges faced by the president's most trusted advisors. The panelists discussed the role of discipline in limiting and prioritizing access to the President while maneuvering delicate political atmospheres, often times assuming the role of friend and others the role of counsel across decades of American history. 

Panelist Biographies

From February 2013 until January 20, 2017, Denis McDonough served as White House Chief of Staff for President Obama.  In that role, McDonough managed the four thousand member White House staff, as well as Cabinet Secretaries and agency leaders. He provided strategic advice to the President on the most significant domestic policy, national security, and management issues facing the federal government and enforced plans and accountability for performance and goals, maintaining the Obama Administration’s reputation for effective, ethical operation. He planned and coordinated efforts to recruit and retain key talent—including an unprecedented expansion of technology experts, engineers, and content generators within the White House and across the federal government.

Prior to his role as Chief of Staff, from September 2010 until February 2013, McDonough served as Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy National Security Advisor. He chaired the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee, leading a multiagency team to address complex national security challenges, including crisis management as well as policy decisions related to the Iran nuclear negotiations, strategic arms reductions talks with Russia, the United States re-balance to Asia, the Afghanistan surge, and the Iraq drawdown. Throughout the 2008 Presidential campaign, McDonough served as Senior Foreign Policy Advisor for Obama for America.

Prior to his eight-year tenure  in the White House, McDonough served in senior leadership and policy-making positions in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Professional Staff Member on the International Relations Committee, and in the U.S. Senate, for the Senate Majority Leader and for Senator Ken Salazar (CO).

McDonough was appointed Senior Principal at the Markle Foundation in February 2017.  In this role, he is working to address the skills gap, particularly in light of the looming artificial intelligence revolution.  As part of this work, McDonough chairs the Rework America Task Force, which consists of a panel of influential American who will advance work on enabling all Americans to develop the skills they need to grow their careers and find a new place in the new economy.  Through the Task Force, McDonough will work to shape and lead a larger, longer-term national conversation about how the technological revolution can serve all stakeholders in the new economy.  McDonough also serves as an executive fellow at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, teaching a global policy seminar for its inaugural cohort of graduate students.

McDonough received his B.A., summa cum laude, from St. John’s University (MN) and his M.S. from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.  He lives in Maryland with his wife and three children.

Andrew H. Card, Jr. served as President of Franklin Pierce University with its anchor campus in Rindge, NH and other campuses in Lebanon, Manchester and Portsmouth, NH, and Goodyear AZ from January 2015 through July 2016.  Prior to this, Mr. Card served as Executive Director of the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Texas A&M University from August 2013 until December 2015.  He served as Acting Dean of The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M from July 2011, until Dean Ryan Crocker's return from service as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan on August 1, 2013.  The Bush School was founded by President George H. W. Bush and is located near the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum Center on the west campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

Mr. Card, the second longest tenured White House Chief of Staff, has served in senior government roles under three U.S. Presidents.  Card serves on the Board of Directors of public corporation Union Pacific, on the Business Advisory Board of BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics, on the Advisory Board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and on a number of non-profit boards.  He is also a professional speaker represented by the Washington Speakers Bureau and joined NBC News as a contributor in April 2017.

Mr. Card, appointed in November 2000, served as Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush from January 2001 to April 2006.  In this capacity, he coordinated the priorities of the Administration’s agenda, the development of policies, and appointments of Cabinet Secretaries and senior officials throughout the government.  On September 11, 2001, Card is the one who whispered in President Bush’s ear while the President was sitting in a classroom in Florida, that terrorists had attacked the United States.  Card then led a government-wide reorganization to best allocate resources to deal with the aftermath of 9-11 and the new terrorist environment.

Prior to his tenure as White House Chief of Staff, Card managed and ran the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia at the request of nominee Texas Governor George W. Bush.  Before that, Card was Vice President-Government Relations for General Motors Corporation, one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers.  In this role Card directed the company’s international, national, state and local government affairs activities and represented GM on matters of public policy before the U.S. Congress and the Administration.  From 1993 to 1998, Card was President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, the trade association whose members were Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors Corporation.  When Chrysler became part of Daimler Corporation, Card oversaw the dissolution of the nearly 100 year old trade association.

Mr. Card served as Deputy Chief of Staff and then as a Cabinet Member for President George H.W. Bush as the 11th Secretary of Transportation from 1992 to 1993.  In this role, in August 1992, at the request of President Bush, Secretary Card coordinated the Administration’s disaster relief efforts in the wake of the massive Hurricane Andrew.  He also directed President Bush’s transition office during the transition from the Bush Administration to the Clinton Administration.  Prior to that he served as Special Assistant (1983 to 1987) and later as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for President Ronald Reagan (1988) where he was liaison to governors, statewide elected officials, state legislators, mayors and other elected officials.  From March 1987 until March 1988, Card ran the successful New Hampshire Presidential Primary Campaign for George H. W. Bush.

He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a B.S. in Engineering.  He also attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  Card served in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1967.

Card has been the recipient of many honorary degrees and awards.

Card is a native of Holbrook, Massachusetts and got his start in politics as an elected official in Holbrook and then as Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1975-1983.  He served as a Minority Whip from 1977-1983.  In 1982 he was named Legislator of the Year by the National Republican Legislators Association and received the Distinguished Legislator Award from the Massachusetts Municipal Association.  He was a candidate for the Republican Nomination for Governor of Massachusetts in 1982.

He and his wife, The Reverend Kathleene (Bryan) Card, also from Holbrook, Massachusetts, have three children and six grandchildren. 

Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, III is Chairman of McLarty Associates, which he co-founded in 1998 following a distinguished record of business leadership and public service, including various roles advising three US Presidents: Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter. Mr. McLarty is also Chairman of the McLarty Companies, a fourth-generation family transportation business.

As President Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff, Mr. McLarty helped enact the historic 1993 deficit reduction package, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Family and Medical Leave law, and the landmark welfare reform legislation that enabled more than 6.8 million people to move from welfare to work. He also organized the successful 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami, which ultimately led to his appointment as Special Envoy for the Americas in 1997.

As Counselor to the President Clinton, Mr. McLarty advised on a broad range of international and domestic issues. He traveled to the Persian Gulf on the president’s behalf to build financial support for the Bosnian peace process, led the US delegation to the inauguration of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, and signed the peace accords that brought peace to Guatemala for the first time in three decades. Mr. McLarty planned US participation in the 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago, and participated in several G-7 and APEC Summits.

Prior to his government service, Mr. McLarty was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Arkla, a Fortune 500 natural gas company. During his tenure Arkla grew into the nation’s largest natural gas distributor, with customers in eleven states and significant exploration and pipeline operations. Mr. McLarty was appointed by President Bush to the National Petroleum Council and the Council on Environmental Quality, and he was a member of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board from 1989 through 1992.

Mr. McLarty is a frequent public speaker, and has published numerous articles on US trade and foreign policy. He has served on the boards of many corporate and non-profit institutions including as a Director of Union Pacific and the Acxiom Corporation, and on the boards of the Bush Clinton Katrina Fund, the Council of the Americas, the InterAmerican Dialogue, Ford’s Theatre, and the Center for the Study of the Presidency. In addition, he serves as a Senior International Fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. McLarty is the recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Medal; the highest civilian honors of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela; and the Center for the Study of the Presidency Distinguished Service Award. Mr. McLarty is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Arkansas.

Chris Whipple is a writer, a documentary filmmaker, a journalist and a speaker. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Gatekeepers: How the White House chiefs of staff define every presidency. Critically-acclaimed (“If you’re a political junkie or just curious, this is the book for you”—Tom Brokaw), The Gatekeepers, published April 4, 2017 by Crown, is the first in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the men who have been the president’s closest advisers, whose actions—and inactions—have defined the course of our country.
Since George Washington, presidents have depended on the advice of key confidants. But it wasn’t until the twentieth century that White House Chief of Staff became the second most powerful job in government. Unelected and unconfirmed, the chief serves at the whim of the president, hired and fired by him (or her) alone. He is the president’s most important adviser, and the person he depends on to execute his agenda.
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, whose members have included Rahm Emanuel, Dick Cheney, Leon Panetta and Donald Rumsfeld.
In doing so, he revises our understanding of presidential history, showing us how James Baker and Panetta skillfully managed the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, ensuring their re-election—and, conversely, how Jimmy Carter never understood the importance of a chief, crippling his ability to govern. From Watergate to Iran-Contra to the Monica Lewinsky scandal to the Iraq War, Whipple shows us how the chief of staff can make the difference between success and disaster.
As an outsider president tries to govern after a bitterly divisive election, The Gatekeepers could not be more timely. Filled with shrewd analysis and never-before-reported details, it is a compelling history that changes our perspective on the presidency.
A multiple Peabody and Emmy Award-winning producer at CBS News 60 Minutes and ABC News PrimeTime, Chris Whipple is the chief executive officer of CCWHIP Productions. He is the writer and executive producer of The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs, airing on Showtime. For this groundbreaking film, Whipple conducted, for the first time ever, more than 100 hours of exclusive interviews with all twelve living CIA directors and their top operatives.