Five years ago — James Carney and John F. Dickerson, CNN, March 12, 2001:
… our new President doesn’t like to overtax himself. Bush routinely takes an hour or more each day for exercise, is out of the office by 6, keeps a light schedule on the road and starts the weekend early, on Friday afternoons. …
…this President has a way of doing business that is different from what Washington has seen in years. While the Clinton Administration seemed to thrive on chaos, Bush’s is self-consciously calm, efficient, focused and results oriented. “He doesn’t want our time to be White House time all the time,” says chief of staff Andy Card. “He wants people to have a life. This does not have to be all consuming.” Bush wants to dictate the terms of the job, not let the job dictate to him–which is remarkable, given the job in question. He urges advisers to go home to their kids. Even Cheney is out by 7 most nights. A staff member in the elder Bush’s Administration used to leave his office light on and jacket draped over his chair to make it appear he was working all night. That kind of stagecraft isn’t effective in the son’s halls, says Mary Matalin, who worked for both Bushes. “There is no guilt associated with being able to make a respectable departure,” she says.
Andrew H. Card Jr. wakes at 4:20 in the morning, shows up at the White House an hour or so later, convenes his senior staff at 7:30 and then proceeds to a blur of other meetings that do not let up until long after the sun sets. He gets home at 9 or 10 at night and sometimes fields phone calls until 11 p.m. Then he gets up and does it all over again.
Five years ago:
Bush’s take-it-slow-and-easy approach is yet another rebuke to his predecessor. Clinton came to office promising to work for the people “until the last dog dies.” In Clinton’s world, working hard meant exhausting yourself, something the President and his staff did regularly, especially in his first term, when leaving the White House before midnight was viewed as proof of a lack of commitment. Clinton’s sheer effort was a key part of his message.
Not so President Bush. “I don’t like to sit around in meetings for hours and hours and hours,” he told TIME during the campaign. “People will tell you, I get to the point.” Meetings should be crisp and should end with decisions. Talking matters less than doing. “People who make up Republican White Houses come from the business world and are used to a business-like routine: getting in early, getting it done and going home,” says Bush spokes-man Ari Fleischer. By contrast, he adds, Democrats tend to come from “the world of government service, which is much more hectic and much less disciplined.”
Of all the reasons that President Bush is in trouble these days, not to be overlooked are inadequate REM cycles. Like chief of staff Card, many of the president’s top aides have been by his side nonstop for more than five years, not including the first campaign, recount and transition. This is a White House, according to insiders, that is physically and emotionally exhausted, battered by scandal and drained by political setbacks.
Five years ago:
Where critics call Bush’s light work schedule proof that he’s not up to the demands of the job, his defenders call it a sign of self-knowledge. Bush is keenly aware of his internal wiring. He knows how much sleep he needs and is fanatical about getting it. “He’s a straight eight-hours man,” says Mark McKinnon, his media adviser during the campaign. When a tighter than expected primary season with John McCain forced Bush to cut into that shut-eye, he was sick for nearly a month with a bad cold.
Clinton rarely wandered into the Oval Office before 9 a.m., but Bush is usually there by 7:15, with Cheney showing up soon after for their joint-intelligence and national-security briefings. But Bush often cuts out in the middle of the day for a run or workout, sometimes for two hours. (When he can’t, his mood sours.) The White House staff secretary is under orders to have his briefing book for the following day in the Oval Office no later than 6 p.m. Even so, by then Bush has frequently punched out and headed back to the residence. He likes to have dinner every night at 7 and is almost always in bed and asleep by 10.
The succession of crisis after crisis has taken its toll. Some in the White House sound frazzled. While there are few stories of aides nodding off in meetings, some duck outside during the day so the fresh air will wake them up. “We’re all burned out,” said one White House official who did not want to be named for fear of angering superiors. “People are just tired.”
White House officials are never genuinely away from the job. Tied to their BlackBerrys and cellular telephones, they are often called to duty even during rare vacations. Weekends are often just another workday. Hadley, for one, schedules a full day of meetings every Saturday. Card comes to the White House on days off to go bicycle riding with Bush.
Clearly, Bush does not want Andy Card to have a life.
The CNN article from 2001 noted that Vice President Cheney was putting in longer and harder hours than the President did — “Compared with Cheney, some critics say, he looks like a part-timer” — in spite of the veep’s heart problems. Here is the story lede:
If anyone in the Bush Administration deserves a day off, it’s Dick Cheney. From the budget to energy policy to national security and foreign affairs, there’s almost no major issue that doesn’t feel his touch. But last week, just two days after he underwent his second cardiac surgery in three months, the 60-year-old Vice President was back at his desk–his return hastened, perhaps, by a boss who insisted there was no reason for Cheney to even consider slowing down. “He’s very important,” the President said. “He is needed. This country needs his wisdom and judgment.”
Cheney may have wanted to go back to work two days after heart surgery — he had a country to run, after all — but the fact that Junior slacked off while the sick old veep pulled more than his share of the load should have worried people five years ago. I don’t recall that it did.
Today’s Washington Post story has a curious omission. It says nothing about whether the President is getting frazzled or working longer hours than he used to. As far as we know, Junior is still putting in his maybe eight hours and getting to bed by 10 pm. And he expects Andy Card to come ride bikes with him on weekends.
At least now we know why the Bush Administration seems asleep at the wheel. The Bushies need a nap.
Shortly after the Katrina debacle and the Libby indictments Republican pundits began making noises about a White House “staff shakeup” and the importance of bringing in a fresh team. The Associated Press reported in October 2005:
Republicans and Democrats alike have urged Bush to begin remaking his presidency by bringing in fresh advisers with new energy to replace members of a team worn down by years of campaigning and governing. But administration officials said that was not in the works. …
… “There’s no discussion of staff changes beyond the usual vacancies that occur or beyond filling the vacancy that the vice president did as well,” McClellan said.
Sidney Blumenthal wrote recently that Bush refuses to listen to advice that he needs to make changes to get his administration back on track. The people around him may be crumbling in exhaustion, but he doesn’t notice. Or else he doesn’t care.
The CNN article of 2001 included a prophesy of what the next five years would bring:
Even as officials who worked for Clinton concede the point, they argue that Bush’s approach may not survive rough times. “These are high-pressure jobs,” says Leon Panetta, who served more than two years as Clinton’s chief of staff. “Someone has to carry the load, especially when there’s a crisis.” Bush has enjoyed a smooth stroll through his first six weeks on the job, but some say his need for order and structure makes him appear unsteady and slow to react when confronted with an off-the-script event. When he fumbled his remarks about North Korea last week–suggesting the country had not kept its international agreements, contradicting advisers who said it had–critics said he may have delegated too much, leaving himself unprepared.
Five years later, he hasn’t changed a bit.
Also: Don’t miss the Announcements.