How do you actually run a White House? What is the president’s job? What is the chief of staff’s role? What happens if you screw up?
These are questions I’ve been reflecting on rather a lot lately, for obvious reasons. And so I asked Denis McDonough on the podcast to talk about them.
McDonough served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff from 2013 to 2017 — a position in which he earned the nickname “Obama’s Obama.” This is his first lengthy interview since leaving the White House, and he was thoughtful, reflective, and sober about both the job he did and the job his successors must do.
This is a discussion about running the most important organization in the world well — and what happens when you fail. McDonough and the Obama administration did have their failures, and those failures taught them hard lessons. We dig into those moments, as well as the difference between a public process and a transparent one, how the White House interacts with the rest of the executive branch, why it’s so hard for the federal government to modernize its technology, whether agencies struggle to attract top talent today, how Obama ran his quarterly meetings with cabinet officials, and much more.
Behind this discussion lurks a great vulnerability opening up under the Trump White House. They are trying to pursue their agenda, but they are not effectively managing the vast organization they’re in charge of. That’s going to lead to mistakes, and those mistakes could come to define, or even destroy, Trump’s presidency.
Which is why, if there’s anyone who should listen to this podcast, it’s the current occupants of McDonough’s old workplace. As always, you can subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, or stream the conversation off Soundcloud.