NAPLES — Former President George W. Bush’s White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card shared his experiences and opinions on hot button issues that the current administration is facing today at Ave Maria School of Law’s “Conversations With” lecture series at the Naples Grande Beach Resort on Tuesday night.
Card, 62, candidly discussed his opinions on the current Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s recent gaffes, President George W. Bush’s initial reaction to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Republican Scott Brown’s election to the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate position and the Sept. 11 terrorist’s trial possibly taking place in New York City.
“I don’t second guess him,” Card said of Emanuel, who is currently occupying the same position that he did for five and a half years before he officially stepped down early from his post on April 14, 2006. The average tenure of a White House chief of staff is two years.
“Everybody does the job to suit the president’s needs, not to suit my needs or America’s needs,” Card said. “The chief of staff is very different from being the secretary of something. Rahm’s job is to make sure the president is prepared to do his job, and is so if the president is happy with him, that is all that counts.”
On the other hand, Card said that Emanuel’s use of flagrant language, such as when he recently called a group of liberal Democrats “f---ing retarded,” is simply not his style and that he personally tries not to “rock the boat” even though he may be boiling inside.
When asked if Emanuel should be ousted for his offensive behavior, like former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested, Card emphasized his point that as long as President Obama is happy with the job Emanuel is doing for him, then that’s all that matters.
“His language is a little more colorful than what I use and I think he has a little bit more of a temper,” said Card who joked that Emanuel is probably smarter than him.
Prior to being appointed as the chief of staff for Bush in 2000, Card also worked under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
“My relationship with Ronald Reagan was kind of like a grandson and a grandfather,” he said. “My relationship with George H. W. Bush was kind of like a father and a son, and my relationship with George W. Bush was kind of like brothers. You are very respectful to your grandfather, and sometimes you’re a little frustrated with your dad and they know it. And with your sibling, you’re not afraid to tell them like it is. I was very comfortable in telling George W. Bush how I saw things, and he was very comfortable in telling me. We had a very candid relationship.”
After commercial airline jets crashed into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, it was Card’s job to tell Bush what had happened. He said that the president had a hint of what was going on before he walked into that classroom in Sarasota and thought that a small, twin-engine prop plane had crashed into one of the towers. The real news broke after President Bush had already addressed the classroom full of elementary school students.
“I said a second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack. And that’s all I said to him,” Card said while recalling the events of that day. “I really respect how he reacted because he did nothing to demonstrate fear or introduce fear to those little kids or (to) demonstrate fear to the press.”
Card believes that terrorists still pose a serious threat to the safety of the U.S.
“I think the threat is real, and I think that our opponents want to hit us again,” said Card, who has great confidence in the people who are in charge of protecting the U.S. from future terrorist attacks such as the CIA, the military and Transportation Security Administration. “I think they are better prepared than they ever have been.”
Card — who is a native of Holbrook, Mass. — admitted that he had entertained the idea of running for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate position in Massachusetts, which was recently filled by Scott Brown, a Republican.
“My heart wanted me to run, but my head got in the way,” said Card, who believes that Brown will do a good job. “I realized that I would have had to overcome some burdens that Scott Brown would not have had to overcome. I would have had to run three campaigns and they all would have been expensive. The first one would have been I’m not George Bush. The second one was I’m Andy Card and the third one was you can vote for me.”
During the lecture, Card fielded questions from audience members, one of which was about holding the trial for the Sept. 11 terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in New York City.
“I don’t think it was smart to say that number one there would be a civilian trial in a court in New York,” said Card, who believes that the trial should be held in a military tribunal. “You’re going to have a trial in New York City where the risk of something bad happening is pretty great. There’s a high risk on a good day never mind a terrorist trial.”
John-Michael Thiesen, a first year law student at the Ave Maria School of Law, came to the lecture even though he had already met and spoken to Card earlier in the day.
“I thought it was phenomenal,” Thiesen said of the lecture and question and answer session. “I was really honored by the opportunity to come visit with him.”
Thiesen thought that the most provocative thing Card talked about were his anecdotes about President George W. Bush going to military hospitals to give Purple Hearts to wounded soldiers.
“It really gives a different view of the president that you don’t normally get to see,” he said.
Contact Sarah Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.