STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One of President Trump's more than 20 tweets over the weekend announced a new chief of staff. Mick Mulvaney soon becomes acting chief of staff, replacing John Kelly. Mulvaney will remain budget director. The tweet announcing Mulvaney came abruptly after other candidates withdrew from consideration. Having been appointed, Mulvaney was greeted with a reminder of something he once said. The Daily Beast published video of Mulvaney saying Donald Trump is a terrible human being. The video is from a public event in 2016.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICK MULVANEY: Yes, I'm supporting Donald Trump. I'm doing so as enthusiastically as I can given the fact that I think he's a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad.
INSKEEP: So what challenges does the new chief of staff face? Let's ask someone who has served a president as chief of staff. Andrew Card held the job for more than five years of George W. Bush's administration. Welcome to the program, sir.
ANDREW CARD: Good to be with you, Steve. Thanks very much for having me.
INSKEEP: What do you think of Mick Mulvaney?
CARD: Well I actually think - I was surprised by the choice, but I think he's a good choice. Number one, there have been several OMB directors that made great chiefs of staff. Leon Panetta came from being OMB director, becoming chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. Jack Lew was OMB director who became chief of staff to Barack Obama and then secretary of the treasury. And Josh Bolten was OMB director and succeeded me as chief of staff. So I think because the Office of Management and Budget is kind of in the middle of the White House complex and knows all the players and the ins and outs, I think that's a pretty good choice.
And Mick Mulvaney also - because he was a member of Congress and is relatively well-respected in Congress on both sides of the aisle, even though he's known as a pretty tough conservative, I think that he brings that understanding. I do have one reservation. And that is if he's confirmed by the United States Senate to be the OMB director, he's also obligated to go up and testify before Congress. And a chief of staff shouldn't go testify before Congress.
CARD: So I don't think he should be named acting. I think he should be named chief of staff.
INSKEEP: And get rid of the other job, you're saying. We should clarify this. You're saying that if the Congress wanted to question the chief of staff, the president could claim executive privilege and just say, that's my staff; it's none of your business. But they do have license, given this other Senate-confirmed job, to question him, even question him under oath.
CARD: Correct. When you are confirmed by the United States Senate to be a member of the Cabinet in a statutory Cabinet level, then one of the first things they ask you is, will you come to Congress and testify before us? And the answer is yes. They don't - the chief of staff is not confirmed by the United States Senate. It's entirely a position under the control of the president. You serve at the pleasure of the president for the time being. It's redundant, and it's insecurity. And that's the way it's supposed to be.
INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned that part of his rather impressive-sounding resume is running the Office of Management and Budget, which means you have your fingers on everything. You know a lot of the numbers. But we should note he was an unusual - has been an unusual director of the Office of Management and Budget because of his tendency just to cut everything.
CARD: Well, that's - that was who he was when he was a member of Congress. He was a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus and was known as a hard-nosed fiscal conservative, don't spend any money. I think that he's mellowed as he came to recognize how government actually works. So I don't hold that against him. I do like that he is a - someone who wants to have kind of more controls over the fiscal nature of government and how they spend the taxpayers' money. But I think he's learned that government has to function. So I don't think he's a champion of shutdowns even though he had been a champion of shutdowns when he was a member of Congress.
INSKEEP: Now, let's note the moment in history in which Mick Mulvaney becomes the acting chief of staff. Democrats are about to take over Congress or take over the House of Representatives, I should say. After a big election win, they gained 40 seats. Investigations into the president continue on multiple fronts involving payoffs to women as well as Russia's involvement in supporting President Trump in 2016. Multiple people around the president have pleaded guilty or have been criminally charged or convicted, and the president himself has been named in court papers. What is the first challenge for the chief of staff in this situation?
CARD: Well, it's important to, number one, have a chief of staff who is empowered to give discipline to the staff. Emphasis of the word - in chief of staff should be on staff. Mick Mulvaney will be a staffer serving the president in charge of the staff. He's got to be empowered to keep discipline of the staff so that they do their job and don't get preoccupied by what the president may be going through politically, what the president may be going through legally or what the president may be going through in terms of investigations. Help the president do his job. There's so much going on in the world and so much going on the United States. You need a White House staff that is disciplined to help the president do his job even though he may be distracted.
INSKEEP: I'm trying to think of Alexander Haig, who was the chief of staff for Richard Nixon during Watergate. And we're not predicting by saying that that it's going to end up the same way. But when you read accounts of Alexander Haig trying to support a president who was under deepening investigation, that seemed like an extraordinarily stressful job.
CARD: It is a very stressful job even when there is no investigation. And investigations do create a climate of angst. And it's - that's why you have to have a strong chief of staff. Probably the best chief of staff in modern times was James A. Baker III. And he served President Ronald Reagan very, very well even though there were investigations taking place then.
INSKEEP: You were chief of staff on 9/11, Mr. Card. Do you have one piece of advice for Mulvaney should a crisis break out while he's chief of staff?
CARD: Be cool, calm and collected. Don't allow emotions to drive how you do the job. Remember that people should see the president when they need to, not when they want to. The president should be making presidential decisions, not government decisions. And the president should somehow find discipline to taste his words before he spits them out or lick his thumbs before he sends a tweet.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK, thank you very much. That's a good place to stop. Mr. Card, thanks very much. Pleasure talking with you.
CARD: Steve, it's great to be with you. Thank you. Bye-bye.
INSKEEP: Andrew Card was chief of staff for George W. Bush. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.