tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg June 3, 2022 9:00pm-9:30pm EDT
david: this is my uh kitchen table and also my filing system. over much of the past three decades, i have been an investor. [applause] the highest calling of mankind, i've often thought, was private equity. [laughter] and then i started interviewing. i watch your interviews, so i know how to do some interviewing. i've learned how leaders make it to the top. >> i asked how much he wanted. he said 250. i said fine. i did not negotiate with him. i did no due diligence. david: i have something i would like to sell. [laughter] and how they stay there. you don't feel inadequate now being the second wealthiest man in the world, is that right? [laughter] ♪ perhaps the toughest job in washington is not being president of the united states. it is actually being chief of staff to the president of the united states. the average chief of staff lasts about 18 months. i sat down with ron klain, the current chief of staff to the
president and asked him what his job actually entails and why it is so difficult. for those who don't know ron's background, it is quite amazing. he has served his country for many years. among those positions are chief counsel for the senate judiciary committee under then chairman joe biden. associate counsel for judicial selection under president clinton. chief of staff and counselor to the attorney general, janet reno. and chief of staff to vice president al gore. in addition, he also served as assistant the president and chief of staff to vice president biden in the obama administration and returned after serving several years to serve as the white house ebola response coordinator. i think you have the perfect resume for this job, but my question is you know so much about being chief of staff and you know so much about the white house, don't you know that being
chief of staff to the president of the united states is a difficult job to do and usually the tenure is 18 months? so when you were offered the job , did you say i know that i going to do this for 18 month or am did you say going to make it for all four or 18 years? ron: thank you for that very generous introduction. i appreciate it. i was honored, flattered, humbled when president-elect biden asked me to come do this. it is a grueling job. there is no question about it. it is easy to understand why the average tenure is 17, 18 months. you know, i am here every day working away. i'm honored to be part of this team. i am very lucky. i have probably the most experienced group of colleagues who have ever served at the senior level in the white house. i have a lot of people who carry the load every day that makes the job a lot easier than it would be. we are facing a lot of hard challenges. difficult situations on the international front. a lot of challenges at home. i am lucky to be part of an a+ team tackling these challenges. david: let's talk about the job of being the chief of staff.
and how the white house works. so, the president, does he get up early in the morning and call you at home and say what is going on? or, what time does he get in and what time do you meet with the staff people and what time do you see him? how does that work? ron: i'm usually in the white house by 6:45. and i talk to the president early in the morning by phone. we have our morning staff meetings before the president come downstairs. we have a number of different kinds of alignments and meetings, depending on the day and whatnot, where we go over what is going to happen the day. what the key questions are. what are the key things we need to result that they as a team. i have worked in the white house many times before. but i think this is the most team-oriented staff i have seen. usually the president comes downstairs around 9:00. i am his first meeting of the day everyday.
i go through where things are. some key priorities. yet his reaction to the materials he has been reading overnight. the president takes with him upstairs every evening a thick binder of materials to read. decision memos and briefing memos. he usually comes in with questions. i try to come in with answers. and we have a conversation. then he proceeds to a number of different staff meetings. i see him a number of times through the day for different kinds of meetings going on, and whether they are national security meetings or domestic policy meetings, and then usually at the end of the day i come in and wrap with him about what are the key outstanding things? what are the things he is going to see in his book that night he needs to focus on? and what are the big decisions he is going to have to make and some of the meetings he is going to have the next day? david: does anybody have the right, or the senior staff -- who has walk-in privileges? are you the only one that can walk into the oval office without an announcement or are there a couple who can do that?
ron: any of the senior advisors can come in and see him. that is he has to not be in another meeting or whatever. we run the white house here where a lot of people have access to the president. a lot of people are able to talk to him directly about what they think without having to go through me. david: the president seems like an even-tempered person but everybody gets upset from time to time. does he yell or scream or he is not a yeller or screamer? how does he show his displeasure? does he write a note or how does he say he is not happy? ron: i think one of joe biden's greatest strengths as president is he has lived a life filled with incredible triumphs and incredible tragedies. people know his biography. they know his background. they know the successes he has had. they know the grave personal setbacks he has suffered. and one thing that is true is there is never a morning i go in
with news that is as bad or worse than the news someone else has had to deliver at a time in his life. that gives him a very even keel. when things are going well, he does not get too hyped up. when we are having tougher days, he maintains that composure. that demeanor. and i think that is one of the hallmarks of his temperament. one of the things he brings to the office. that steadiness, that experience , and a life that has been , as i say, filled with triumph and tragedy. that has seasoned him and prepared him for this moment. david: some people say at 79 years old that is old to be president of the united states. do you see signs of his age? is he in better shape than you are in terms of exercising? or, how do you deal with the fact he is older than anybody has been to be president of the united states? ron: well, he is a, he is definitely in better shape than i am. he is very fit.
he works out on most everyday in the morning before he comes down to the oval office. the american people saw for themselves last night the president stand to give an hour-long address filled with passion and power and wisdom and energy. they saw him hold the longest press conference in the history of presidents a couple weeks ago at the start of the year. a two-hour press conference where he took questions from all kinds of reporters. so i think his fitness, his vigor is beyond question. people see him on the job every day. what they see is a person fully capable of doing the job, fully vigorous, great mental and physical health and taking on the burdens of the office and executing them well. david: so, today coming due would say the president is enjoying the job or is he saying , geez, i wish i had not done this? ron: i don't know enjoying is the way he would describe tackling the responsibilities of being the president of the united states, and particularly now, where he has emerged as the leader of the free world, the person leading this coalition confronting vladimir putin. i think he is glad he ran for president.
i think he has been well-prepared for the challenges he is tackling. more importantly, i hear from people all around the country, democrats and republicans, they are very glad he is the person in the oval office right now. that he is the person with the background, the experience, the judgment to tackle these hard problems. and so i think there is a lot of confidence in him as the person who should be where he is. david: is the build back better bill likely to ever see the light of day in the senate or are you now committed to breaking it up and passing individual pieces? ron: well, what i think we are going to try to do is try to get as many of the president's initiatives enacted as possible in the best way possible. ♪
david: let's talk about intelligence for a moment. usually the intelligence that comes into the cia is not declassified and given to reporters in a public way. clearly in this process somebody , i assume the president of the united states, thought it was a good idea to declassify the satellite photos and to declassify the information we have about what putin was thinking or saying. so was that a difficult decision to come to an do you think it worked or did not work yet? ron: david, i think it was the right decision given the
environment we were facing. we knew that president putin had a reputation for disinformation. we have certainly seen that all around the world. and we knew that has most likely approach would be to create some kind of disinformation campaign, a false flag attack potentially, a false provocation, out and out lies to justify his invasion of ukraine. as it became clear and clear to us that is what he had planned. we thought it was important to strip him of that advantage by making clear what we knew his plans were and making it clear to the world what we thought would happen. and i think that decision with by president biden in conjunction with our nato allies, are other allies, a coalition of a shared decision has been one of the reasons why there has been such a unified and uniform world reaction to what president putin has done. there is no ambiguity about who is the aggressor. there is no belief in any of the false stories about what "provoked" this invasion.
i think that transparency, that sophisticated intelligent has in a modern work context has served the allies very well. i think it stripped president putin any element of surprise in any attack and helped the ukrainians be ready for what has hit them. david: so how do you respond to the critics who say you should have sent armaments to the ukrainians before the invasion so they were better armed than they are now that we are sending after the invasion, and you should have imposed the sanctions before the invasion? how do you respond to those kind of criticisms? ron: first of all, we did sent armaments to the ukrainians before the invasion. we sent more military systems in the ukraine and the past 12 months than any year since 2014. so, we did send a variety of kinds of military assistance to the ukrainians.
that assistance continues to come into the country. we did send plenty before this happened. in terms of the sanctions, we thought the best way to make sure we had the most unified and powerful set of sanctions was to make it clear those sanctions would take effect when and if president putin invaded. the results that we have seen illustrate that, david. you have seen, there has never been an effort to impose sanctions this stringent on a country as large and complex and interconnected to the world as economy as russia. it is really an astonishing effort you are seeing underway here. in the impact of those sanctions has been devastating. they are devastating because it there is such a powerful group of countries unified in their application. i think doing at the way we did is what has made all that possible. david: when you impose sanctions, let's suppose russia
says, ok, we made a mistake. we are sorry. we are pulling back. do the sanctions go away or are there penalties that are subsequent to the withdrawal? in other words, are there ongoing penalties or in effect reparations for having done these things or to the sanctions go away or has that not been decided yet? ron: it has not been decided if the russians withdrew. again, that would be part of whatever kind of diplomacy would unwind in the crisis in ukraine. sadly, this is a hypothetical question. we see no signs the russians have any intention of withdrawing right now. and indeed, there military operations in ukraine continue to escalate. they continue to attack more civilians, more civilian sites. the fighting continues to get more and more fierce. we offered president putin a number of diplomatic off ramps in the run-up to this invasion. we offered him a number of ways
in which he could meet with members of the coalition and the ukrainians. a number of different kinds of structures to do that. at every juncture, president putin rejected the path of diplomacy, continued on the path of invasion, and that is what we are seeing unfold. david: let's talk about the build back better. um, i wonder who came up with that tongue twister? it is hard to say that quickly. was that something that you came up with that. were you the one who came up with that? ron: i don't who came up with that. it was the principal slogan for the president's campaign. in 2020. it was the slogan for most of his policies that he ran on, build back better. it has actually gained some traction around the world. a number of european countries have adopted build back better initiatives. so i think it is a slogan that has resonated with people. it is a bit of a tongue twister , but i think it does have some resonance and it comes from the campaign. david: so is the build back
better bill that passed the house likely to ever see the light of day in the senate or argue now committed to breaking it up and passing individual pieces of it? ron: i think what we are going to try to do is get as many of the president's initiatives enacted as possible and in the best way possible. the senate has the option to do reconciliation as a procedural device that takes only 50 votes to pass a bill that has tax changes and other kinds of economic changes in it. that would be the vehicle we would use to move some legislation like this through the senate. we are obviously in conversation with a number of senators about what elements have the most support, what elements are the most effective to get past the senate. you heard the president talk about a number of those last night. people are very concerned about inflation and very concerned about what inflation means to everyday families. that means they pay too much for things. and so, key parts of the bill back better plan address that directly.
bring down the cost of childcare. bring down the cost of prescription drugs. bring down the cost of elder care. bring down the cost of health care. so, we are looking for, and looking for and most importantly or equally important bring down the cost of energy by moving us to a clean energy economy. so you look at those proposals, they are proposals that meet the moment of higher costs and we are going to continue to work with the senate to find a formula that moves that agenda forward. ♪
david: so, ron, you have been criticized by some for saying you are so powerful that you really are effectively running the whole government. how do you respond to that? life you are like you are the prime minister. ron: that is ridiculous. i am a staff person. i have never run for anything. i have never been elected to anything. i have been proud to work for some distinguished public servants. resident biden being one of them at several points in my career. president obama of course.
president clinton. that is who i am. at the white house, not only am i a staff person, i am a staff person who works with a number of enormously staff people. so this is a real team effort here. team on the policy side, team on that strategy side. my job is to coordinate those people and get the advice to the president. so that is how i see my role. david: how do you respond to the other criticism some people have had not necessarily of you but of the president that he governed -- he campaigned as a moderate but he is governing more to the left than people expected? what is your response to that criticism that some have made? ron: i think that criticism wipes out the history of the 2020 campaign. uh, there is nothing the president said to capitol hill he did not put before the voters in the 2020 campaign. our economic agenda is the economic agenda you ran on and 81 million americans voted for when they elected him. in fact, if anything, we have trimmed that agenda back.
the build back better bill we sent to capitol hill is smaller than the he campaigned on. one the voting rights bill is something he campaigned on. he was very straightforward with voters about what he would do if he were president, and that is what he has done. and look, the proposals put forward are substantial. why? because the problems we inherited were substantial. not any vision, not any grandiose vision. we inherited an economy that was dead in the water. 50,000 jobs a month. just 50,000 jobs a month. three months before we got here, a virtually dead economy. government had not bought enough vaccinations to give one vaccine to every american let alone two vaccines to every american, let alone booster shots. we had no system to distribute the vaccines. we faced a climate crisis. we faced other challenges in europe. we have put together proposals to meet the moment not out of
some effort to do something bigger than we should but because we inherited very big problems. in you and you have seen a lot of progress. we then went and crated more jobs in one year than any administration in history or any administration since 1939, according to a new york times fact-check. we sustained the fastest economic growth in 40 years. it was the first time in 20 years our economy grew faster in a year than china's economy. so we put in place the kind of measures that were needed. we fully vaccinated over 220 million americans. you know, these were big tasks we took on this year. and i am proud of what we have done to achieve them. david: usually after the first year of an administration you see some turnover in the cabinet or something, but you have not had any turnover and you have not had any scandals either. so, how come you have not had any scandals and how come you have not had any turnover? ron: well, i think the president
did a good job of picking a cabinet and senior officials at the lack of scandals reflects that. i think the lack of turnover reflects the fact these are men and women who are eager to serve who are doing a great job, who are making a difference. it is the most diverse cabinet in history. it is the first time in history the cabinet has been evenly divided between men and women. it is the first time in history the majority of the cabinet is not white. it is an incredibly talented cabinet. it is a diverse cabinet. we are very lucky to have their service. david: the president's favorability ratings are not as high as i assume you would like. and i wondered how do you in the white house deal with that? ron: well, i think the most important thing is for the president to do the right thing. i think that what you are seeing right now is a mood in the country that is impacted by the fact this pandemic has lasted longer than anyone thought it would, that while we have had
tremendous growth in the economy and jobs we are having a problem with inflation and i think those things contribute to a generally -- a mood in the country that is not as upbeat or confident as we would like. in the case of president biden, he made a lot of hard decisions in 2021 to put in place a new economic strategy you heard the president talk about last night in the state of the union. a new covid strategy that we are again updating today with new steps on covid. and those hard decisions, i think, are starting to show results. i fully accept the fact that the american people are more show me not tell me. what they want to see is that we really have reached a new way of managing covid. they want to see we have not just created jobs but the jobs are going to stay and the wages are going to go up. they want to see the economic recovery is real and sustained. i think the political credit will follow from that. when i was here both with president clinton and president obama, we saw the recovery ahead of the politics, and i think
you're seeing that now. i think our approval rating will go up in the months ahead as the economic recovery and the progress on covid become more permanent, more lasting and internalized more by the voters. david: now one of my former partners at carlisle was jim baker. and he was considered maybe up until you the gold standard of how to be chief of staff but he did not like that job very much and he wound up as secretary of treasury and a secretary of state. so do you have any aspirations to any of those jobs or something like that? ron: i don't think so. when i finish my tenure here, i'm going to take a month and sleep and then i will figure out what i will do next. secretary baker, i got to know him a little bit during the florida recount when we were at on opposite sides of that. he has been unbelievably gracious. he sent me the kindest note when i got this job. he has sent me a couple notes since then. he is such a, he has been such a wonderful person. and i, he is the gold standard of doing this job.
i could not even aspire to that. i just try to the best i can every day. david: whenever you do finish this position as chief of staff and a friend calls you and says i have been offered the job to chief of staff to the president of the united states, would you tell him or her to take that job or not? ron: i would tell anyone to take this job. it is a hard job, but it is a unique opportunity to work with first of all an incredible president and vice president at a time that is very important to our country and to work with an amazingly talented group of people here in the white house , throughout the agencies. they blew me away every day and i learned -- learn something new everyday. it has been the culminating experience of my career. i could not be more grateful for the experience and whoever replaces me in this job whenever my time in the job ends, i hope has the same kind of experience. ♪