The White House is a political institution – with a political affairs office
By Jeffrey Lord
Here was the headline from Fox News: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/special-counsel-recommends-firing-of-kellyanne-conway-over-alleged-hatch-act-violations
Special Counsel recommends firing Kellyanne Conway over alleged Hatch Act violations
The story said this:
“The Office of Special Counsel recommended Thursday that Kellyanne Conway be fired from the federal government for violating the Hatch Act on ‘numerous occasions.’
The Hatch Act is a federal law that limits certain political activities of federal employees.”
The story caused the inevitable media firestorm it was designed to cause. Kellyanne Conway committing politics in the White House? Ohhhh the horror!
To be blunt? What bunk.
What does the White House have that no Cabinet department or federal agency has?
That would be the White House Office of Political Affairs.
What does the Political Affairs office do? As its name indicates the office is filled with White House staffers who do politics. Every day. Every hour of the working day.
I know this because, yes indeed, I was once an Associate Political Director in the White House – the Reagan White House. As I have noted over there in NewsBustershttps://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/jeffrey-lord/2019/06/01/lame-liberal-media-attack-conway-is-political the White House is itself a political institution. Politics is practiced, as noted, every day.
When a president announces policy X, White House aides are on the phone or in front of cameras to make the political case for that policy X. I would often enough be dispatched to give speeches around the country to both defend the President – and, yes, to attack his opponents.
Example? On one occasion I was sent to North Dakota to give a speech for a Republican Senator running for re-election. The very reason for my presence was to support the Senator and go after his opponent. This was standard operating procedure.
And yet the hypocrisy here of this attack on Kellyanne Conway – whose title is Counselor to the President – is as bold as it can get.
Here is former Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett as she recently appeared on Fox Business. https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/hatch-act-violation-would-have-gotten-me-fired-fmr-obama-adviser-valerie-jarrett The headline:
Hatch Act violation would have gotten me fired: Fmr. Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett
The story says this, in part:
“You can do whatever you want when you’re on your own time. But from the White House you are restricted from engaging in any political activity,” Jarrett said on “Cavuto: Coast to Coast.”
…Jarrett added that Obama would not have tolerated anyone who had violated the Hatch Act.”
Here’s another story in the New York Times from June of 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/us/politics/white-house-comeback-for-political-affairs-office.html The headline:
White House Comeback for Political Affairs Office
The Times story said this, in part, with bold print for emphasis supplied.
“WASHINGTON — President Obama has decided to bring politics back into the White House.
Such considerations are at the center of everything that happens at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, of course. But three years ago, Mr. Obama closed the longstanding Office of Political Affairs at the White House and sent his operatives to his Chicago campaign office and the Democratic National Committee as he prepared for his re-election campaign.
Now the West Wing is reopening the office and promoting David Simas, a top communications aide, to be its new director. Mr. Simas, a strategist from Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign, most recently served as one of the officials in charge of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
The decision extends a restructuring at the White House after a politically disastrous year for Mr. Obama.”
In other words, the Obama White House, contrary to the impression Ms. Jarrett was giving in that Cavuto interview, was, exactly as the Times quite accurately reported, bringing “politics back into the White House” because political “considerations are at the center of everything that happens at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, of course.”
The Times was correct. And to be clear, the Obama White House did nothing wrong in doing this. For the entire existence of the American presidency politics has been at the very center of the institution. All presidents have had White House aides who quite specifically were in the White House to conduct presidential politics – to advocate for the president’s policies, to deal with his supporters – and his opponents. And not infrequently, after the President has left office they carry his political banner through their memoirs of their old boss.
To name just a few of Kellyanne Conway’s predecessors?
Lincoln’s John Nicolay and John Hay, Woodrow Wilson’s Joe Tumulty, FDR’s Louis Howe and Harry Hopkins, Truman’s Clark Clifford, JFK’s Ken O’Donnell and Larry O’Brien, LBJ’s Jack Valenti, Joe Califano and Bill Moyers, Reagan’s Lyn Nofziger, Ed Rollins, Lee Atwater, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels and Frank Donatelli.
In the case of LBJ’s Califano, the ex-aide wrote in his memoirs that once he joined the White House staff: “In the street fights over the Great Society legislation I learned that politics was not Ping Pong; it was played with metal bats and hard balls.” Indeed.
The real story with this demand from the government’s “special counsel” – an office populated by career bureaucrats with their own political agendas – is that Kellyanne Conway is superb at her job. So, of course, the bureaucrats want her fired.
Here’s a better suggestion. Abolish the United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC). It is there for one reason and one reason only when you get past the mumbo jumbo of its stated mission to protect “merit” employees. The reason: to protect the federal bureaucracy from political staff appointed to carry out a president’s agenda. It is filled with bureaucrats who have won no election, bureaucrats who, in the timeless fashion of bureaucrats, have their own agenda. In this case that is the anti-Trump politics that is animating a federal bureaucracy that overwhelming gave their money and votes to Hillary Clinton.
And their agenda of the moment is to get one of the most effective presidential aides in history out of the White House.
They won’t succeed.