Unformatted text preview: First in Line also by kate andersen brower
First Women First in Line
pr esi dents, v ice pr esi dents,
a n d th e pursuit of pow er *
k ate andersen brow er first in line. Copyright © 2018 by Kate Andersen Brower. All rights reserved.
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18 19 20 21 22 lsc 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 For my radiant sister Kelly
For those who have patiently served:
Walter Mondale, George H. W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Al Gore,
Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, and Mike Pence contents Presidential Partners
On the Vice Presidency • PROLOGUE: “Safe Hands” 1 I. You’re a Guest in My House • II. Two Men, Two Hotel Suites • III. The Art of the Vet IV. The Observatory • 69 V. The Second Lady • 79 VI. Tragedy and Trauma VII. From VIII. Confusion, IX. Getting to Know You . . . or Not: Mondale/Carter,
Bush/Reagan, and Quayle/Bush X. From ix
xi • • 7
25 39 • • 103 Senator to Subordinate: The Story of Nixon/
Eisenhower, Johnson/Kennedy, and Humphrey/
Conflict, and Musical Chairs: The Rocky
Road of Agnew/Nixon, Ford/Nixon,
and Rockefeller/Ford Friendship to Betrayal: The Breakup of
Al Gore and Bill Clinton viii contents XI. The XII. Fanboy: XIII. Man EPILOGUE: A Heartbeat Away Shadow President: Cheney and
His Sidekick Bush
The Love Story of
Joe and Barack
on a Wire: Mike Pence’s
• 291 •
Sources and Notes
Index p r e s i de n t i a l pa rt n e r s richard m. nixon and dwight d. eisenhower, 1953–1961 lyndon b. johnson and john f. kennedy, 1961–1963 hubert h. humphrey and lyndon b. johnson, 1965–1969 spiro t. agnew and richard m. nixon, 1969–1973 gerald r. ford and richard m. nixon, 1973–1974 nelson rockefeller and gerald r. ford, 1974–1977 walter mondale and jimmy carter, 1977–1981 george h. w. bush and ronald reagan, 1981–1989 dan quayle and george h. w. bush, 1989–1993 al gore and bill clinton, 1993–2001 dick cheney and george w. bush, 2001–2009 joe biden and barack obama, 2009–2017 mike pence and donald trump, 2017– on t h e v ic e p r e s i de nc y I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.
—m assachusetts senator daniel webster’s reply when offered
the running-m ate spot on the whig party ticket in 1848 I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than Vice-
—t heodore roosevelt, vice president
under president william mckinley Once there were two brothers: one ran away to sea, the other was elected vice
president. Nothing was ever heard from either of them again.
—t homas r. marshall, vice president
under president woodrow wilson The vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm piss [later cleaned up
to “warm spit”].
—john nance garner, vice president
under president franklin d. roosevelt The vice presidency is “that rare opportunity in politics for a man to move
from a potential unknown to an actual unknown.”
—spiro agnew, vice president
under president richard nixon xii on the vice presidency Dick, I don’t know how you ever took the job.
—gerald ford, who spent less than a year as
richard nixon’s vice president, to dick cheney,
vice president under president george w. bush You die, I fly.
—george h. w. bush, vice president under president ronald
reagan, on vice presidents being dispatched around the world
to attend dignitaries’ funerals Let me make this pledge to you right here and now: For every American
who is trying to do the right thing, for all those people in government who
are honoring their pledge to uphold the law and respect our Constitution, no
longer will the eight most dreaded words in the English language be: “The
vice president’s office is on the phone.”
—joe biden, vice president under president barack obama,
lampooning his predecessor, dick cheney Iron sharpens iron.
—m ike pence, vice president under president donald trump,
quoting from his favorite bible verse, proverbs 27:17:
“as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” “Sue, did the president call?
—selina meyer, fictional onetime vice president
on hbo’s veep, to her beleaguered secretary, sue First in Line prologue : “safe hands” They felt called to do this. They knew what they were
getting into, they knew the history, they knew the challenges,
and they accepted that as part of their calling.
—J I M AT TER HOLT, MIK E PENCE’S GU BER NATOR I A L CHIEF OF STA F F, ON
MIK E A ND K A R EN PENCE’S DECISION TO JOIN DONA LD TRU MP ’S T ICK ET T he Trumps were hunkered down at their golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in the summer of 2016. It was the
final meeting in a series of discussions to decide on Donald Trump’s running mate, and, as always, it was a family affair.
Some combination of Trump’s eldest children—Donald Jr., Eric,
Ivanka—and Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, had been mainstays
at meetings with Washington lawyers in charge of vetting vice
presidential candidates. But at this final decisive meeting it was
Melania Trump, the aloof former model married to the outspoken
and impulsive real estate tycoon, who drew the bottom line. Whoever is chosen must be “clean,” she insisted. That meant no affairs
and no messy financial entanglements. In short, it meant no drama.
She realized that her husband had a surplus of that already.
Melania was an important voice in the room during that last
critical meeting, even though she was conspicuously absent when
her husband actually announced Indiana governor Mike Pence as
his running mate. It was the first time in modern campaign history that the wife of a presidential candidate was not at the public
announcement, and it was an early indication of how uncomfortable she would be as first lady. It was decided at that final meeting 2 first in line that what they needed was someone with “safe hands,” as vetting
lawyers call it. Someone who would be calm in a crisis; someone
who could instill a sense of confidence in the Republican base that
remained deeply skeptical of Trump. Most of all, what they needed
was someone who could take over the presidency, if necessary.
Melania was keenly aware of the need to balance her husband,
who has spent much of his public life—and most of his life was
lived clinging to the spotlight—awash in scandal. She wanted to
make sure that there were absolutely no skeletons in his running
mate’s closet. But one finalist had a closet full of them (still, Donald Jr. backed him until the end), and another contender was so
controversial that he would be ousted within the first few weeks
of the administration when he served in a different position. Melania’s shrewd instincts proved correct; Mike Pence was by far the
least controversial on Trump’s list of vice presidential candidates,
and Pence could help Trump win over conservative Republicans.
Melania is described by people who know her as “stubborn” and
“unapologetic about who she is.” “No one speaks for me,” Melania once said when her husband promised a TV news anchor that
she would do her show. In this case, she was decidedly in Pence’s
Trump came late to the search for a running mate and did not
reach out to Arthur B. Culvahouse, the well-connected Republican lawyer who led the vetting for John McCain in 2008, until
late May. Trump’s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, even considered paying a law firm to do the vetting, seemingly unaware of
the long-held tradition of lawyers in Washington and New York
clamoring to do it for free. Lawyers put together detailed reports
on each of the candidates, including their tax returns and any history of psychiatric treatment, and they dig into rumors of affairs. In
that secretive vetting ritual, Culvahouse makes a point of only using lawyers from his own Washington firm to guard against leaks.
Kushner, the then-thirty-five-year-old real estate scion married to
Ivanka, teased Culvahouse that one of his write-ups on a candidate prologue: “safe hands” 3 read “like a legal treatise,” and another “like the script for House
Trump’s options were limited. “Trump was hard to get your mind
around if you’re vetting vice presidential candidates because he had
made a number of provocative statements that would be potentially
disqualifying in a conventional vice presidential nominee,” said
Culvahouse, who was White House counsel to Ronald Reagan and
contributed to Jeb Bush’s and Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaigns. A
couple of Trump’s picks, including Republican senator Bob Corker
of Tennessee, took themselves out of the running, not because of
personal entanglements, but because of moral objections—they felt
they could not defend Trump every day, which is a key element of
the vice presidency. The two finalists who would be one heartbeat
away from the presidency could not have been more different, both
in temperament and reputation.
Trump crowdsourced the process, asking anyone and everyone
he met who he should pick. And even though he never released
his own tax returns, Trump asked for his potential running mate’s
financial information. He was looking for someone who fit the
part, someone who looked like a vice president. “Straight from central casting,” Trump is reported to have said of Pence. Culvahouse
said Trump’s long list of candidates was much shorter than McCain’s (nominees have a longer list of names at the beginning of
their search and a whittled down, shorter list toward the end of
the process). McCain had almost twenty-five people on his long
list, and Trump had just ten on his, including Michael Flynn, a
controversial retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former intelligence officer who was once the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency during Barack Obama’s administration.
“He [Trump] was clearly fond of Flynn,” Culvahouse said, shaking his head. Even though Culvahouse says he did not interview
Flynn for the position, Flynn remained on Trump’s list for a while,
no matter how many people tried to talk Trump out of it. There was
some discussion among Trump’s campaign staff and Culvahouse’s 4 first in line team of lawyers about whether Flynn was actually a registered Democrat until someone on Culvahouse’s staff produced a photo of his
voter ID card confirming it. It turns out, of course, that that was the
least of Flynn’s problems. Though Flynn did not make it on Trump’s
short list of VP candidates, Trump made him national security adviser, where he served for less than a month before being forced out.
Flynn is one of the key figures in special counsel Robert Mueller’s
investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the
Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russian meddling. By the end of
2017, Flynn had pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI
about his conversations during the transition period with Russia’s
ambassador to the United States.
Unlike with Cabinet picks, the FBI does not do a background
check on vice presidents—when Trump picked Rex Tillerson as
secretary of state, the FBI did a background check, but not so with
Trump’s number two, the man who is next in line for the presidency. “The real problem with vice presidential vetting that just
terrifies me, Flynn is the best example, is that you don’t have the
FBI to help you,” Culvahouse said, exasperated. Unlike a Cabinet
officer, whom a president can fire, there is no way for a president
to easily remove his vice president from office—only Congress
can impeach him. The FBI is not involved in the vice presidential
vetting process because nominees for vice president (like nominees for president) are not technically being considered for federal
office, they’re being considered for the nomination of a political
party. “It’s a huge hole I think in how we pick our vice presidents,”
Culvahouse said. “It absolutely should be changed.” The FBI has
considerably more resources than law firms do, and in the case of
Flynn, likely would have picked up troubling signs. Armed with
that information the FBI could have flagged the campaign to go
slow and think twice before giving him a role in the administration.
In the end, it was down to two men. Mike Pence, a devout evangelical Christian in his late fifties, won out over former speaker of
the House Newt Gingrich, the much more controversial finalist, prologue: “safe hands” 5 who, like Trump, was also in his seventies and had been married
three times. Gingrich left his first wife when she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery and did not take his seat for a
third term as Speaker in part because of ethics violations. He was
far from “clean.” Pence had served six terms in the House, had
strong ties to Republican leaders, and, most important, he could
help Trump win votes in the Midwest.
David McIntosh, a friend of Pence’s, is a former Indiana congressman who now heads the influential conservative group the
Club for Growth: “Trump needs Pence there as a less mercurial
and more stable conservative leader,” he said. Trump, who had
very little knowledge of how Capitol Hill works, told Culvahouse
he wanted Pence to be the COO, or chief operating officer, of the
White House. In this redefinition of the executive branch, Trump,
then, would be the CEO of the United States—an unprecedented
approach to the presidency. But how would someone so different from the man he was being asked to serve respond to the offer? One longtime friend of Pence’s said that Pence considered the
vice presidency his “divine appointment.” Pence told another close
friend, “It isn’t about Donald Trump. It’s about the country.”
Two years before Pence became vice president he and his friend
then–Indiana senator Dan Coats talked privately about their political futures. Pence was weighing whether to run for governor for a
second term or to seek the presidency in 2016 and Coats was trying
to decide whether to run for reelection to the Senate. “We talked
about the future and where God might lead each of us,” Coats recalled. “We prayed that God would be clear, and I think I raised
the question that we should pray for clarity, not for what we want
but clarity for what God would want. I’m always a little hesitant
to discuss it in these terms because people say, ‘Oh, you think you
were ordained.’ That’s not it at all, I think we both feel that it was a
question of how God could best use our talents in whatever direction He wants to take us . . . a whole number of miraculous things
happened in the political world that affected both of our lives.” 6 first in line Coats went on to reluctantly accept Trump’s offer to head the intelligence community as director of national intelligence only after
Pence repeatedly asked him to take the job. “We need someone
with experience,” Pence pleaded with him. Both these men see
themselves as bulwarks against chaos.
The “miraculous” offer to be Trump’s running mate would rock
the Pences’ lives. Pence likes to say, “There are two types of people
in the world: Those who are called and those who are driven.” But
it is always a little bit of both. Jim Atterholt, who was Pence’s chief
of staff when he was governor of Indiana, said Pence and his wife,
Karen, “prayed a great deal” when they were considering the job.
Karen is her husband’s top adviser and the Pences are a “buy one,
get one free package,” not far off from Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Pence said he had two conditions before accepting Trump’s offer:
Their families had to get to know each other and he needed to
understand the job description. Trump replied, “I’m going to have
the most consequential vice president ever. That’s what I want.
That’s the job description.” It was music to Pence’s ears. Pence
called Trump with Karen on the line to accept his offer. There was
no specific agreement reached between Pence and Trump about
what Pence’s role would be as vice president, but in the end there
was very little hesitation on the part of both Pences. “They felt
called to do this,” Atterholt recalled. “They knew what they were
getting into, they knew the history, they knew the challenges, and
they accepted that as part of their calling.”
But Pence was not truly expecting to win—no one was. A week
after Trump’s shocking victory, Trump was still asking friends,
Can you believe I won this thing? Before election day, one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign aides approached the residence manager at
the Naval Observatory, where the vice president lives, to see if he
would agree to stay on and help transition Clinton’s running mate,
Virginia senator Tim Kaine, and his family into the residence. No
one from the Trump campaign ever bothered to call. I You’re a Guest in My House I am Vice President. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything.
—J OHN A DA MS, A MER ICA’S F IR ST V ICE PR ESIDENT, W HO
SERV ED U NDER PR ESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON The vice presidency plays head games with you. You
start to wonder if you matter that much.
—M IK E DONILON, A LONGT I ME CONF IDA NT OF JOE BIDEN’S E ven the best relationships between modern presidents and
their vice presidents can be difficult at times, especially
when they were once rivals for the nomination. Barack
Obama roundly beat Joe Biden in the 2008 Democratic primaries
and aides say Biden always respected Obama because of that. “Joe
Biden is not a humble person in some ways and he has great respect
for his own judgment,” quipped Ron Klain, who was chief of staff
to Biden and Al Gore, “but he does believe in the democratic
process, so there was never any confusion in his mind about how
all this worked out.” Obama was a global superstar who had run
laps around Delaware’s longest-serving senator. “I don’t think on
his best day Joe Biden believes that Barack Obama won in 2008
because of Joe Biden,” Klain added. So, he said, Obama clearly had
the upper hand in their relationship. According to Klain, Obama’s
perspective was simple, if not a bit condescending: This is my house, 8 first in line these are my things, I’m interested in your views, Joe, I like your input, I
want you to be happy here, but you’re a guest in my house.
The thirteen men in this book, from Richard Nixon to Mike
Pence, eight Republicans and five Democrats, all share one thing in
common: the deeply humbling experience of being the president’s
understudy. When asked for his greatest accomplishment during his
eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, George H. W. Bush,
still not wanting to take credit for any achievements, replied: “That
is for others to judge.” Vice presidents have only two constitutional
duties: to succeed the president if he is unable to serve for any reason, and to act as president of the Senate to cast tiebreaking votes.
(Biden cast none, whereas Mike Pence cast nine tiebreaking votes in
just over a year on the job.) No matter how integrated they are, vice
presidents always play second fiddle; at best they are the politician
who was almost good enough, at worst they are a virtual unknown
who embarrasses the president.
The vice presidency has been a much-
maligned and oft-
deprecated position. An important member of the constitutional
convention, Roger Sherman, thought the vice president would
have to be assigned the role of presiding officer of the Senate because, he said, without it the vice president “would be without
employment.” Benjamin Franklin suggested that the vice president
be addressed as “Your Superfluous Excellency.” Warren Harding’s
vice president, Calvin Coolidge, said: “I enjoyed my time as ...
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