When Brock Adams left the Carter administration as secretary of transportation last July, he did so in frustration at his continuing status as an outsider and because he had little respect for the White House staff's ability to run the government.
Now, as a real outsider, Adams says that if Carter is to be reelected he is going to have to work "very hard and very quickly" to get his legislative program and governmental operation in order before the primary season begins.
Adams made these observations in the first interview he has granted on the subject of Carter and politics since the president fired him July 19. Adams had been asked to stay on by Hamilton Jordan, the newly anointed White House Chief of staff, but on condition that he reshuffle two of his top aides.
Adams refused, and Carter fired him.
Two months later, Adams looks five years younger, relaxed and happy. He has joined a Seattle law firm, now known as Houger, Garvey, Schubert, Adams and Barer, and is working out of that firm's Washington office at 1919 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. It has been 15 years since Brock Adams left private practice to run for and win the Seattle congressional seat that brought him to Washington.
The midsummer Cabinet reorganization surprised him, Adams said.
"I was surprised that there had not been a White House change or beefing-up prior to anything in the Cabinet," he explained, "because I didn't see that much as Cabinet difficulty that couldn't be organized or overcome by a White House reorganization."
Despite his troubles with the administration, Adams says he wishes Carter well. It was clear from the interview that he believes Carter's biggest problem is with his own staff.
"I like him," Adams said."He's very intelligent. He has an ability to analyze problems; and I think he works at it very hard. So he's got a lot of pluses.
"I think one of the problems is . . . there's a difference between campaigning and governing. Governing takes a different kind of people . . . . You can't govern being against government, and I think that's the problem that he is wrestling with now. . . . "
Adams specifically cited the appointment of Washington attorney Lloyd Cutler to be general counsel as one of several good appointments the president has made recently, and said, "I hope he [Carter] listens to them."
In terms of the 1980 election, Adams said, "At this point I think [Carter] is a lot further ahead than people think he is" and that the president will be reelected. The critical issues for Carter will be progress on energy legislation and the economy, Adams said.
Carter, Adams said, "has got to work at it very hard and very quickly. Because you see what happens in the Congress -- and I told him this, too -- is that you really have to do most of your substantive business in the year before the year of election, because the primaries start so early and you start destroying the work schedules of both the House and the Senate side."
Adams declined to assess the possible candidacy of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and ducked the question of whether he would support Kennedy if Kennedy runs.
"I am just not going to get into that," Adams said. The day he resigned, Adams declared that he expected to support Carter and expected Carter to be reelected. "I'll stand by that," he said.
Adams -- a respected member of the House for 12 years and a man who prides himself on his knowledge of Capitol Hill and how it works -- was scornful of White House efforts to pass legislation.
"If you want to get a complicated, potentially controversial bill, such as energy legislation, through Congress," Adams said, "you've got to wrap uppers and downers together. You may start with a particular position, but there's got to be pluses in it so you have a constituency -- somebody who's going to stand on the floor on each side and gather so many people around them and say, 'We ought to have this bill. It is important to us.'"
The administration's first attempt at energy legislation, in 1977, "was crafted," Adams said, "but not enough people were in on it to see where their piece of it was . . . . An energy bill has got to tie to at least three groups. It has got to tie to production people because they are involved in it; it's got to tie to transportation people, because they use over half of it, and it's got to tie to the remaining consumers -- feed stocks [users, such as plastics and fertilizer makers] and heating oil users. Each must see where they fit; must feel that they have an interest in it being passed."
If such planning is not done in advance, Adams said, the bill will fail, just as the 1977 energy bill did.
It is clear from a review of interviews over three years that Adams had wanted badly to be asked for advice on legislation and on working Capitol Hill, and is hurt that he never was asked.
The White House people, he said, "have a problem in working their bills . . . . I was very willing always to help, but not at the last minute. It doesn't do any good to call up somebody because they are your friend and say, 'Vote for this bill because you are my friend.' I can't do that."
When Carter reorganized his administration last summer, Adams hoped for added responsibilities.
"If he had said to me, 'I'm going to ship all of these people to the campaign committee . . . and your function is to go back and forth to the Hill,' then I would have stayed," Adams said.
"I would like to have fitted into that" Carter administration operation, Adams said. "But I didn't feel that I was going to. And I don't know all the reasons. I feel sad that I couldn't . . . . I never could penetrate it."