On the same day that Hamilton Jordan unofficially was promoted to White House chief of staff, he also got his feathers clipped on Capitol Hill.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Jordan paid a courtesy call on Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill. The two are not exactly close friends and O'Neill's disdain for the aide he once referred to as "Hannibal Jerkin" has been an open secret.
O'Neill said the purpose of the meeting was "to understa nd each other a little better."
"I'm sure he understood me when we got through," O'Neill said. According to O'Neill, Jordan advised him there would be "some changes" in the administration.
O'Neill told Jordan, "I hope you don't mess it up the way you messed up the Griffin situation."
Robert T. Griffin was a friend of O'Neill's who was fired as deputy administrator of the General Services Administration because he was believed to be standing in the way of a thorough corruption investigation in GSA. O'Neill felt he was not forewarned of the firing, and banned White House congressional liaison head Frank Moore from his office for a time because of it. Eventually, O'Neill came to believe Jordan was the real culprit.
O'Neill said yesterday he had never met Jordan before Tuesday afternoon. "Gary [Hymel, an O'Neill aide] introduced us. There hasn't been a relationship between the House and the president's closest aide, Hamilton Jordan. I haven't met him twice in 30 months. I told him there should be a better working relationship between the man who has the president's ear and the Congress of the United States. Hamilton Jordan hasn't attended one of those leadership meetings at the White House."
O'Neill said he hoped Jordan would now begin attending the weekly White House meetings between the president and congressional leaders.
One source described Jordan as appearing "shaken" when he left Tuesday's meeting with the speaker.
The bad blood between Jordan and O'Neill began before Carter was inaugurated. O'Neill had asked for tickets to the inaugural gala at the Kennedy Center. When he got them, he found they were somewhere in peanut heaven. He called Jordan to see if the speaker could get better seats and Jordan told the speaker he couldn't help him get better seats but he's give him his money back if he liked. That's when O'Neill began calling him "Hannibal Jerkin."
Asked to comment on the proffered resignations of the Cabinet and the top staff, O'Neill said, "When you have a lot of things that aren't happening, somebody has to take responsibility. When you have a record of non-accomplishment, somebody has to step aside." But O'Neill hastened to emphasize that he has had no trouble with any member of the Cabinet and thought they were all doing a good job.
O'Neill said Carter had asked his advice for Cabinet members after he was elected and had chosen three of about a dozen names O'Neill suggested.
This time O'Neill said he hadn't been asked for advice. "But if I'm asked, I'll probably open my mouth," O'Neill said.