In his first big speech since leaving his White House chief of staff post, Bill Daley shared some behind-the-scenes stories about President Barack Obama “rolling the dice on his presidency” with his order to kill Osama bin Laden.
The evidence that Osama bin Laden was really in that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was so thin, Daley said, that: “Trust me, if you went to 26th and California [the Cook County Criminal Courthouse] with the evidence that Osama bin Laden was in the building, no judge would have given you a search warrant. No way. They would have looked at you and said, ‘bring me something real here.’ ”
Daley also laughed about Mitt Romney’s ability to run the United States like a CEO. And he predicted the Supreme Court would “split the difference” on Obamacare, given that the justices are all “political people” at heart.
The crowd of business leaders at the Union League Club breakfast laughed at Daley’s hometown spin on national and international events.
In the operation to get bin Laden, the president asked his military staff plenty of questions to make sure it wasn’t a case of “we wanted him so bad were we convincing ourselves that he was there,” Daley said.
Daley was shocked they were able to keep the operation a secret, given that the CIA director had briefed 15 members of Congress.
Daley found himself the night before the raid at the White House Correspondents dinner at a table with George Stephanopoulos and Eric Stonestreet, an actor from the TV show “Modern Family.” Stonestreet said he was going on a White House tour the next day. Daley had instructed that all White House tours be canceled during the raid. A half-hour later Stonestreet announced he had gotten an e-mail that the tour had been canceled.
“What’s going on?” Stephanopoulos asked Daley.
“I said, ‘I don’t know. It’s an old building. Maybe a pipe broke or something,’ ” Daley said.
The audience roared with laughter.
“I say to the guy, ‘Come in Monday. I’ll give ya a tour myself,’ ” Daley recalled.
The operation stayed a secret and was successful.
In the famous photo of the president and all his staff watching the operation to get bin Laden, Daley is the only one wearing a suit and tie. He said that his mother, ‘Sis’ Daley, were she still alive, would have wanted to see him in a suit for such an important occasion.
Daley was brought in to replace Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff in part because his experience in the business world would help him work with Republicans. Daley said he was surprised to find just how resolute Republicans were against any compromise which could create a success for Obama.
“We came a lot closer with [Republican Speaker of the House John] Boehner to getting a big deal that would have had an enormous impact on the confidence of the American people, the confidence of the business community,” Daley said. “I think one of the reasons we didn’t get it was it would be a big boost to the president. Because the economy, in my opinion, would have been solidified. I think a lot of people on the other side [thought] ‘Maybe this isn’t good, politically, for us.’ We came a lot closer than people think.”
Partisan refusal to compromise has rendered U.S. presidents unable to accomplish any domestic goals, Daley said.
“The Congress has so tied the presidency’s ability to be effective domestically. That’s why they all want to play foreign policy cause they can do something,” Daley said. “We went to war in Libya and basically didn’t ask anybody.”
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is in for a rude awakening if he thinks he can run the country like a CEO runs a company, Daley said.
“I laugh when I see this idea that somehow the ‘CEO’ is going to come in and take control and drive, that’s just not real,” Daley said. “The president can go to war and doesn’t really have to ask anybody’s approval. But domestically…”
Daley said structural changes have to be made in Washington, replacing the Senate’s filibuster rules with majority rules, and ending senators’ ability to “extort” presidents by putting private holds on confirmations. Congressmen should have 4-year terms instead of 2-year terms and there should be term limits on congressmen and senators, Daley said.
What will the Supreme Court do on Obama’s health care plan?
“I think they would be hard-pressed to throw the whole thing out,” Daley said. “I could see them taking action to take out parts of it. I think the Supreme Court will try to split the difference and throw it back to Congress.”
The justices do let politics enter their decisions, Daley said.
“They didn’t come out of the sky,” Daley said. “Every one of them came through some political process to get the job, so this idea that somehow there’s halos around them all, they’re basically political people. I remember sitting with Al Gore, and all these legal experts were saying the Supreme Court would never end up doing what they did on the recount and I said, ‘I think they got five and we got four.’ ”
Audience members laughed at the retelling of the 5-4 Bush-vs-Gore decision in which the court’s Republican majority ended the Florida recount, handing the presidency to Bush.
Will the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing SuperPACs deliver the presidency to Romney?
“This has opened the floodgate of uncontrollable resources that can be pretty frightening,” Daley said. “I think that is the one potential game-changer for the president. All things equal, the president should win, in my opinion. … Advertising works and negative advertising works. We will never see these ads. They’ll be in Eau Claire, Wisc., and Grand Rapids, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio, outside the major markets.”
Daley lamented the passing of the politics that worked for his father and brother when they served decades on City Hall’s 5th Floor as mayor.
“It’s harder to get to people today: In the old days you’d have precinct captains knock on the door and talk to somebody, you knew them, face to face,” Daley said. “Today it’s a blogger’s world. It’s e-mails, robocalls. Why anybody would sit and listen to someone’s robocall is beyond me. As soon as you hear it you hang up. But this idea that because President Clinton’s voice is on a call. … It’s crazy. It’s a waste of money but someone’s got a good gig going.”
How does Obama get on with business people.?
“They think he’s like Marx or something,” Daley said. “It’s like he’s destroyed the world and the financial services industry as we know it. Most of the public today believes the president has been too light on the financial service sector. Nobody’s gone to jail. He didn’t nationalize the banks. The president has a very difficult time with the business community. Most people in business and most people who are successful are Republican that’s just a fact of life.”
Does China threaten America’s global economic dominance?
“We’ve seen this before,” Daley said. “In the ‘80s it was the Japanese. They bought Rockefeller Center and that was ‘the end of us.’ And then they bought Pebble Beach, which was even worse, a greater sign of ‘the end of America as we knew it.’ ” Daley said to laughter. “And they all dumped them off eventually for a hell of a lot less than they paid for them so they weren’t so smart either.”