Scene: the Oval Office
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA and CHIEF OF STAFF JACK LEW are seated on the sofas facing one another, with a single sheet of paper in front of LEW on the coffee table between them. Neither looks happy.
POTUS: OK, you talked to Mitch McConnell first thing this morning. Where do we stand on nominations going forward?
LEW rolls his eyes.
LEW: Stand? As far as McConnell is concerned, we don’t stand anywhere. We’ve been kicked to the dirt.
POTUS’ eyes get narrow.
POTUS: Oh, really? (with an edge in his voice:) He said that?
LEW: Not in so many words, but it was pretty clear from the conversation.
POTUS: How so?
LEW shakes his head, and passes the sheet of paper across the table to POTUS
POTUS reads out loud from the paper: Richard Lugar for Secretary of State. John McCain for Secretary of Defense. (quits reading out loud, looks up) What is this?
LEW: That’s what I asked McConnell when he handed me that list of names. He just grinned, then said “Article 2, Section 2.” I looked at him, waiting for him to go on and explain his joke, and he didn’t disappoint me. He looked up at the ceiling and recited from memory: “He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.” Then he stopped, looked back at me, pointed to that sheet of paper, and said “here’s some . . . advice . . . from the Senate.”
POTUS (looks back at the paper, and begins to read again): Mitt Romney for Treasury Secretary? What — Phil Gramm wasn’t interested? Michele Bachmann for Attorney General. David Addington for CIA Director. Rick Perry for Secretary of Education. Todd Akin for Health and Human Services. (POTUS looks up at LEW) Beyond the ridiculousness of this list, some of the folks McConnell wants to replace aren’t even planning to leave, at least not any time soon. What an idiot.
LEW: I had a similar reaction, and McConnell’s grin got bigger. “They all serve,” he told me, pausing for dramatic effect, “at the pleasure of the President. If the President determines they should leave, they leave.”
POTUS (setting down the paper, humor turning to anger): He’s not just suggesting who I should nominate to replace Hillary, but he’s telling me to fire people?
LEW: Again, that was my reaction. I blew up at him, saying “elections have consequences” and he just laughed. “They sure do,” he said, and you and Ambassador Rice just lost.” (LEW pauses, then points to the paper) Did you see the last name on the list?
POTUS (looks down at the paper and reads): Jeff Sessions would still like an appointment to the Federal Judiciary?
The door to the Oval Office opens, and an aide enters.
AIDE: Your last appointment before lunch is here, Mr. President.
POTUS: Thanks. (to LEW) Jack, do you want to join me for lunch in about 20 minutes? (to the AIDE) What’s the soup of the day?
AIDE: I’m not sure. I think it’s Chicken and Rice.
POTUS and LEW look at each other and shake their heads.
LEW: Thank you, Mr. President, but suddenly I’m not all that hungry.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.