“Nobody out-works Denis McDonough,” President Obama enthused when naming his fifth – and last – White House chief of staff in January 2013.
And Denis McDonough does not appear to have let such praise go to his head. Seeking the counsel of James Baker- Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff and George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state- he took to heart Baker’s advice: “As long as you’re focused on the ‘of staff,’ and not on ‘chief,’ you’re going to be ok.”
A consummate staffer, Denis McDonough worked for Congressman Lee Hamilton, then Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and Senator Ken Salazaar, before joining Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. He worked every day of President Obama’s two terms in the White House, first as head of strategic communications for the National Security Council, then NSC chief of Staff and deputy national security adviser before his promotion, at the start of Obama’s second term, to White House chief of staff.
When he first moved into his West Wing quarters in January 2013, McDonough took to heart another hard lesson, this one learned by Donald Regan, who quickly lost favor with President Reagan after too many battles with the first lady. For example, during a weekend White House tour for his siblings that included Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden, McDonough and family ducked behind the tomato plants lest the first lady, who was on the South Lawn, should notice. Another hallmark of McDonough’s success is paying close attention to personal connections, even in the face of partisan politics. After a tough grilling by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, McDonough enjoyed pulling out his own Horned Frog memorabilia to remind TCU’s most prominent booster of McDonough’s connections with the Horned Frog family.
Denis McDonough will be on campus to discuss the value of a liberal arts education in an age of increasing technology and artificial intelligence. Learn more about his lecture on our event page.
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