Outside, Pennsylvania Avenue was clogged with the morning rush hour, but in the office of the president's chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan was discovering that some things were already moving a bit too fast.
He discovered this after Alonzo McDonald had come walking across the common reception cubbyhole he shares with his boss and had entered, unannounced, to offer his morning report.
"How do we stand on the building and trades speech?" Jordan had asked his new chief deputy, a man of impeccable business credentials and matching wardrobe, who is Jordan's senior by 16 years and his "chief prodder" by designation.
"Well, things were going pretty good until Landon decided to switch the strategy," McDonald replied, referring to Jordan's longtime assistant and fellow Georgian, Landon Butler. "Now we've got two completely different speeches."
Jordan winced and swiveled around in his large padded desk chair. It was 8:25 a.m. last Tuesday and he was finding himself plunged into his first problem of the day. It was a problem of no monumental importance to the governing of the country, but a problem typical of the daily fare that a White House chief of staff comes up against, pitting staff member against staff member, each with strong views and senstitive egos. This problem of the two speech drafts for the building and construction union convention would come before Jordan a half-dozen times before the day would end, and it would finally be bucked on to the president essentially unresolved.
It has been 2 1/2 months since Hamilton Jordan officially became chief of staff to a president who had gone 2 1/2 years insisting he needed none. And in the last couple of months, Jordan's life has changed significantly as he has become both a figure of new authority and a subject of new controversy in the Carter White House.
The authority is in large measure Jordan's own design, as he has tried to bring belated order to the Carter White House. The controversy was not of Jordan's design -- it is the result of thus-far unsubstantiated allegations of cocaine use leveled against Jordan by people of personal and political motive. But it is this new controversy, more than this new authority, that has served to keep Jordan in the news recently far more than he would like. And it is against this mixed background that Jordan agreed Tuesday to a longstanding request to allow a journalist to spend a day observing him at work.
Jordan's decision, it must be recognized, bears the understandably self-serving desire to focus attention on what he does for a living and away from what a few people have alleged about his lifestyle. But the result has also been to shed new light on how the renovated Carter presidency works -- where it has been strengthened and some glaring weaknesses that remain. After a summer and fall of overhauling what seems to have occurred is that a New Foundation (to coin a phrase) has been built under a familiar old clapboard, offering an undergirding of strength, but still no assurance that it can survive the political cyclones of 1980.
Tuesday turns out to be more typical than remarkable as a day in the life of President Carter's chief of staff.
It is a day in which Jordan mediates (but does not arbitrate) the dispute over the two speech drafts; maps battle plans on how the president should handle political questions at his news conference; takes decisive steps toward naming a new secretary of commerce; mends a few political fences for President Carter and makes a few campaign decisions for candidate Carter, and finds time to talk twice, briefly, with his attorney, Henry Ruth, about those cocaine allegations that seem to be always with him as he goes about being the White House chief of staff.
At the day's end, Hamilton Jordan, a man occasionally given to reciting poetry when he is not master-planning, will reflect with insight upon the scope of his newly conferred authority. "A lot of this damn job," he will say accurately, "is just taking care of crappy little things."
Street lights are still the prime source of illumination in the pre-dawn darkness just before 7 a.m. as the gray White House sedan arrives at the fashionable Colonnade on New Mexico Avenue in Northwest Washington, where Jordan maintains a bachelor apartment.
In the car, Jordan begins to scribble a list of things to do; he will finish it 20 minutes later, sitting at his desk, sipping coffee (cream and sugar) out of a styrofoam cup, with his confidential assistant, Eleanor Connors, adding a few reminders. Connors has seen more White Housing than her boss; she used to be secretary to Leonard Garment in the Nixon White House and before that worked for White House science advisers going back to Kennedy.
Today Jordan's list has 20 items. Some are one-word reminders of phone calls he must make: "Annunzio," a call to the Democratic congressman from Chicago; "Luther Hodges," a call to the undersecretary of commerce who hopes to succeed his recently resigned boss, Juanita Kreps.
There are "Commerce" and "Education" -- reminders of decisions he must make to get final recommendations to the president for filling the two Cabinet jobs. And there is "Brown" -- he must call Secretary of Defense Harold Brown to check something about that Soviet brigade in Cuba.
At 8 a.m., Jordan walks across the corridor and into the Roosevelt Room, where the midlevel deputies are holding their morning meeting. They have a new daily system at the remodeled Carter White House now. The deputies meet at 7:45 a.m. (with Jordan aide Les Francis presiding) to talk about what they are working on. At times this produces ideas that are discussed at the senior staff meeting at 8:30 a.m. (with Jordan presiding) and this usually produces ideas which are discussed with the president later in the morning.
Jordan rarely goes to the deputies' meeting but he is there today because he wants to give them the offical line on the upcoming Florida caucuses.
Jordan is concerned that some of the midlevel aides will be talking to reporters and he does not want them to be inflating public expectations on the Carter vs. Kennedy contest with some of those anonymous one-White- House-source-said predictions.
Jordan will not allow a reporter to accompany him to that meeting. But what he said is pieced together from interviews with people who did attend, as well as Jordan.
Jordan gave no orders or ultimatums about what to say and what not to say to reporters.He just gave them what he called his view of the Florida caucus and it was clear this was the view that was considered suitable for artificial dissemination.
It was the view that anything over 50 percent-plus-one would be a victory and anything less a defeat. This was true but it was also the political strict constructionist view that did not take into account the fact that all of the president's top-level persons had been in Florida campaigning against what was after all an unauthorized draft-Kennedy movement that was well-financed but nevertheless rag-tag.
At 8:25 a.m., Jordan is back at his desk. It is then that McDonald, tall, graying, balding and an expert in organizational efficiency in his big business past, leaves his well-ordered office and walks into Jordan's, a place which is pleasant but of a different order.
Jordan's office is a histrocial shrine of sorts. It is the office, a few steps from the Oval Office, from which h. H. R. Haldeman made the trains run time for Richard Nixon, and from which Haldeman plotted and executed crimes on a scale so grave that, by comparison, make allegations of concaine use (while illegal and inexcusable) seem more like something to sneeze at.
"We've got to decide what opening statement the president should make at his press conference," McDonald says, as Jordan jots down the agenda for the senior staff meeting that will start in five minutes.
There are two ideas. One, McDonald says, is about the hunger and suffering in Cambodia and the U.S. plans to offer aid. The other, McDonald says, is that "Stu [domestic policy chief Stuart Eizenstat] is interested in a statement emphasizing our successes on Capitol Hill."
Jordan notes both. It is then that he asks about the president's speech Thursday to the building and construction union, only to find out that there is not one speech draft but two. One emphasizes a White House view of all that Carter has done to help labor. The other is a more thematic speech, involving conversations with the pope and the need for all Americans to sacrifice in the name of energy and economy, and the need for Congress to pass energy legislation.
During the day, Jordan will learn that Eizenstat and McDonald favor the first, chest-thumping speech; Butler, chief speechwriter Rick Hertzberg, (non-staff) pollster Patrick Caddell and press secretary Jody Powell favor the thematic speech.
Jordan is the last to arrive at the senior staff meeting, as he slips into his seat at the head of the Roosevelt Room table at 8:33 a.m. This is an expanded version of the senior staff meeting -- 13 top assistants around the table plus another 14 around the rim. The meetings are expanded every Monday, to give other high-ranking people a sense of participating at the top (Monday was Columbus Day, so this week the expanded meeting is Tuesday).
Top aides never talk as frankly at the expanded senior staff meetings because they are just so large and there are so many potential leakers, according to senior assistants. "The expanded meetings are mostly show and tell," one says. This meeting will have all of those inhibitions and more, since one reporter has been permitted entry as well.
The meeting begins with talk of energy.
Eliot Cutler of the Office of Management and Budget reports that "we are making progress on putting together a conservation package." He says it will be "similar" to that advocated by Senate Democrats Edward M. Kennedy and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts and John Durkin of New Hampshire, but that it will not be as "costly."
Frank Moore, the congressional liaison cheif, cautions his colleagues against indicating a preference for either of two bills establishing the energy mobilization board recommended by the president. The matter is very delicate, Moore notes. The bill sponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D.-Mich.) would provide for a strong board with broad powers; the bill of Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.) would create tightrope between the two.
"There will be a temptation for the president to get into the Dingell-Udall thing," Eizenstat says at one point, noting that Carter will be speaking about energy in a trip to the West during the next two days. "He doesn't need to get into it."
Jordan asks, "Do you want to write a memo [to Carter] on that?"
"No," Eizenstat replies, "I think we can do it verbally."
Several assistants discuss their views of how soon the Senate will complete action on energy and take up the strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT). The Carter assistants hope energy will be over by the end of October or first week of November. "But we've got to be prepared for the worst case scenario," Jordan says. That will be energy dragging on through mid-November, delaying SALT until dangerously close to the planned Dec. 21 adjournment date -- which will also be well past Carter's planned formal Dec. 4 announcement of his intention to run for reelection.
Lloyd Cutler, the gray-haired and distinguished Washington establishment lawyer who just joined the staff as White House counsel, gives a report on the status of SALT.
The 35-year-old chief of staff calls Lloyd Cutler "sir." Cutler says Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Frank Church will be giving a speech this week saying the Senate should go ahead with SALT -- but with a legislative understanding linked to it that the administration will provide an assurance concerning the nature of the Soviet brigade in Cuba. Cutler expresses the hope that the administration may be able to "live with" the Church understanding, although it appears from what Cutler says that there has been no prearranged agreement on this so far.
Cutler also says that "our strongest point" in urging the ratification of SALT is occasioned by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev's recent speech on force levels in Europe.
Cutler notes that European leaders view Brezhnev's speech as the opening gun in the Soviet campaign to urge NATO not to strengthen forces, and he says that the ratification of SALT would be the best response to Brezhnev's speech.
Jordan shifts to the topic of what Carter should say for his opening statement for his televised press conference at 3:30 p.m. The suggestion of the suffering in Cambodia is made. Eizenstat argues for Carter to talk about his latest successes in Congress.
Everyone at the table seems to assume that it is coming down to one of those classic confrontations with domestic staff against foreign staff. But when someone questions the value of the Cambodia suggestion, deputy national security adviser David Aaron, sitting in for his boss Zbigniew Brzezinski says, "I was wondering that myself." He says the Cambodia topic, while a tragic situation, may not be appropriate for Carter's opening statement.
Jody Powell has been battling the flu; his newly hired deputy, Ray Jenkins, observes that "opening statements for press conferences have been something of a ritual and they tend to get lost."
Jordan steers toward a new topic. No one in the room knows it, but he has come to agree with the new deputy press secretary. He will recommend to Carter that there be no opening statement, and there will be none.
Landon Butler follows Jordan back into his office at 9:30 a.m. to talk about the building and trades speech. He tells Jordan there are now two drafts. "I think they're in damn good shape," he says. Jordan says he wants to talk later with Butler about it. As he speaks. Jordan is reading over his paperwork and signing memos.
President Carter's appointments for today:
9:45 a.m. -- Congressional liaison Frank Moore
The appointment is always there, everyday, listed as Frank Moore's meeting with the president. But -- unknown even to most of the White House staff -- it never is just Frank Moore's meeting. It is Hamilton Jordan's. Et al.
Every morning, when the schedule says "Frank Moore," Jordan walks into the Oval Office to preside over a daily agenda of business with the president.
The meeting has long been listed as Moore's private session with the president apparently to give Moore an air of extra-importance when he deals with members of Congress. Jordan has with him Vice President Mondale, Jenkins, Stuart Eizenstate and Frank Moore. Today, the "Frank Moore" meeting begins without Frank Moore, who arrives four minutes late, and short of breath.
Jordan begins as always with a rundown of the agenda topics. (Again, he does not permit a reporter to sit in on the meeting, but provides some details later.)
In the meeting, Jordan tells Carter of the two options for an opening press conference statement -- SALT and congressional successes -- and recommends that Carter make no opening statement. Carter eventually sides with Jordan. There is talk about energy, and how Carter should handle questions on the Florida caucus and Kennedy's challenge.
Jordan suggests that Carter might want to call Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, who surprised even her staff the day before by saying in front of Rosalynn Carter that she would endorse Carter (but even as they speak in the Oval Office, Byrne, in Chicago, is backing gingerly away from her statement).
Eizenstat reminds Carter not to publicly take sides on the Dingell and Udall energy board bills. The meeting lasts almost an hour. Near the end, the president asks Mondale to attend an upcoming ceremony in Atlanta honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Mondale who has something else scheduled that day, asks, "How important it it?"
"It's very important to me," the president replies. And the vice president allows as how he will change his schedule.
Late in the morning, Ed Sanders, Carter's liaison for Jewish affairs, enters Jordan's office, and almost simultaneously, Robert Strauss, Carter's Middle East negotiator and all-everything adviser, calls. Both talk of the same thing. Jesse Jackson, who has expanded his black civil rights cause to embrace the public relations-rich Palestinian cause, would like to meet with Carter.
Jordan, Sanders, and Strauss agree that Carter should not see Jackson -- to do so would seem to give official sanction to his one-man mission to the Middle East in which he met with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. Unknown to the other advisers, Carter and Jordan had already come to the same conclusion.
Jordan is hunched over the electric typewriter in his office, composing a rushed memo to the president on how he should handle questions of the Florida caucus. He suggests that Carter say the election process starts earlier every four years, and that this is not necessarily good, but that when the "other candidates" start talking seriously, his people have no alternative but to take it seriously. Jordan urges that Carter not mention Kennedy and that he not characterize the importance of the caucus in any way.
The single sheet with typing front and back, is rushed down the hall to Carter by a secretary. At his 3:30 p.m. news conference. Carter will follow the suggested script rather well -- but will toss in a characterization that the caucus is "significant" -- and this will wind up as the lead item in a number of newspaper stories the next day.
Jordan feels the need for exercise and tells his secretary he is thinking about tennis. But he cannot find new tennis balls and thinks it is too late to round up a partner, and so he changes into shorts and heads out the door to jog a couple of miles around the South Lawn.
On the way out, he meets outgoing Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps and talks with her about who her successor ought to be. Before the day is over, he will also talk with new Treasury Secretary William Miller, who has called with ideas about the type of person who should be named and a suggestion of a candidate.
In mid-afternoon, Jordan writes a quick note to the president in long-hand.
It says that a consensus has developed among the top advisers behind three possible names for commerce secretary. Jordan has the note carried down to the president in an envelope marked "Eyes Only."
The East Room is filled with Iowans, invited to the White House as part of a presidential program to keep community leaders informed. It is a public program with heavily political overtones.
Jordan follows Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland as a speaker in the mid-afternoon session. He begins with brief remarks about how "if there weren't so many familiar faces here, I doubt we'd be standing in here today" -- a reference to the fact that many in the room were Carter's early supporters in Iowa in 1976 and how Jordan hopes they will be again in 1980.
Jordan quickly opens the floor for questions. Every question is about energy -- except one, which is about the complex international gold market. Jordan, who hoped to talk of politics, has to plead ignorance several times, and he knows his answers are too vague the rest.
"I didn't do very well in that," he says as he leaves after a half hour of filibustering. "They thought I was the secretary of energy."
Late in the afternoon, Jordan calls Jody Powell at home, after listening to Carter sidestep a press conference question about Jordan and cocaine, and he finds Powell anxious to talk with him. A newspaper has had a tip that Jordan was "raucous" during dinner in one of Washington's better restaurants not long ago. These reports are the sort of thing that Jordan has had to live with ever since the Studio 54 cocaine allegations became public this summer.
"Jesus Christ," Jordan says softly, "that's crazy." He goes on to explain that he was there with a couple of staff members, and he gives Powell details of what this is about, and later he wonders why an allegation of "raucous" behavior is being probed like it was a federal case, anyway.
Tim Kraft, who had been around the White House most of the afternoon, working the fringes of those Iowa community leaders, says he has received word that the Draft Kennedy people in Florida are investing in last minute radio spots -- a costly effort for what is only, after all, a straw vote process that will not determine the loyalty of a single presidential delegate. Jordan tells Kraft he doubts the "cost-benefit ratio" of using radio in such a caucus effort, but that "Florida is getting so hyped up that this is not the time to pinch pennies." So Carter too will be on radio in Florida.
Throughout the day, Jordan deals with the problem of the two speeches. It is just before noon when Landon Butler argues quietly but clearly emotionally in favor of the thematic speech. It had been worked out with Caddell who had been given a draft of the original speech and thought it lacked inspirations. So the speechwriters met with Butler and did a new speech. Labor Secretary Ray Marshall will be there and he will give an accomplishments speech anyway, Butler argues.
Within the space of an hour, Jordan will confer with McDonald again about the speech and then with Butler once more time.
There is, here, an abvious problem in the way Jimmy Carter's speechwriting often gets done. Unlike John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Carter has not surrounded himself with speechwriters who are at the top level of his staff. He has always dealt with the writers through senior intermediaries. Once this middle-man role was handled by Herald Rafshoon (recently departed); in the new refurbished Carter White House, it is handled by McDonald, whose thing is efficiency and not politics or communications.
It is, Jordan wil concede at one point, a classic example of how the president gave one set of initial instructions for the speech and how he wound up with two completely different drafts.
In the end, Jordan will come to feel that the thematic speech is the sort that Carter can give best. "He just isn't as good at bragging on himself," Jordan says.
But this has gone way beyond just this one speech. Jordan now does not want to be overruling his new chief deputy McDonald in one of his first roles as overseer of speechwriting. And so, late in the afternoon, he will tell Butler of his decision.
"Feelings are strong enough that, because of the lack of time, I ought to give the boss both speeches and let him make up his mind," Jordan says.
Butler says, "Well, I just hate to give him two speeches at the last minute."
Jordan says. "I know We just don't serve him well when we do. But . . . And Jordan shrugged. (In the end Carter gets both speeeches and -- not surprisingly -- he ends up combining them while on Air Force One, with most of it being the thematic version. And his advisers come away feeling that the hybrid just wasn't as good a speech as it should have been.)
The tale of two speeches affords a revealing look at one of the shortcomings of the remodeled Carter White House staff. Jordan, designated as chief of staff to bring order to the White House, was unwilling to make the ruling that would have given the president one clean speech draft -- but would have alienated one segment of presidential aides in the process.
For in this day, at least, Jordan did his chiefing more with persuasion than dictum. He steered the senior staff meeting gently, more like a colleague who happened to be sitting at the head of the table than a task master. He politicked with people outside the White House, and he politicked with those within the White House as well, as he sought to work his way. There was little that was Haldemanesque in the style of Jimmy Carter's chief of staff.
At 5:30 p.m., Jordan heads for a waiting car and goes home to shower and change, for he is about to enter into what is for him a rather new ritual. Jordan is going to Capitol Hill to attend a fund-raising reception for a Democratic congressman -- a congressman who is young and relatively lacking in influence, but who may prove helpful to Jimmy Carter in the coming campaign season.
On his way to the Capitol Hill reception, Jordan picks up the radio phone in his chauffeured car and gets House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) on the line. Wright is recommending someone for a Cabinet post. "Yes sir, Mr. Leader, his name will be in the pot -- very much in there," says Jordan, making no mention of the eyes-only recommendation he has already forwarded to Carter.
The reception in behalf of Rep. Doug Walgren, a liberal from Pittsburg is already well under way by the time Jordan enters the Democratic Club and looks around for a familiar face in the unfamiliar surroundings. He had never been in the Democratic Club before. Finally he spots White House congressional liaison assistant William Cable and heads toward the right reception. All heads turn as word spreads through the club -- the whispers are audible -- that Jordan is the club. He has just spent a day directing the president's staff and deciding the possible fate of a number of those who now hold, or would like to hold, some of the top government jobs in the land. And yet, as he walks into the reception with Cable, Jordan is painfully aware that the heads are turning not strictly because of the power he wields.
It has become a fact of Jordan's life, and he does the best he can. "Hello," he says to a woman at the door, "I'm Hamilton Jordan and this" -- he points to the started Cable -- "is the fellow with the bad reputation."
EPILOGUE: Hamilton Jordan has quickly become the center of attention, at the reception, as Walgren, a young and sincere liberal, proudly introduces him around the room around the room, making sure that he has his party photographer take plenty of pictures of the most famous of his guests. On the fringes of the crowd, an attractive, dark-eyed, dark-haired young woman keeps consciously away from the cluster.
"I really shouldn't feel like this," says Carmela Walgren, a woman who is soft-spoken and sincere. "I don't know Mr. Jordan -- and he seems like a very nice man. But I don't understand why Doug invited him here -- and I just didn't want to have my picture taken with him. Maybe it's a wrong feeling to have. But I mean, after all that I've read about him . . ."
In the center of the room, Hamilton Jordan is standing beside her husband, signing autographs.