On Dec. 4, Chatterbox identified Margaret LaMontagne as director of the Domestic Policy Council in the Bush White House. LaMontagne, Chatterbox observed, keeps “an amazingly low profile.” When Chatterbox entered her name in the search engine for the White House Web site, he found only four entries for “Margaret LaMontagne.” Chatterbox has since learned that LaMontagne got married a year ago and took her husband’s last name, so now she’s Margaret Spellings. But Margaret Spellings doesn’t have a much higher profile than Margaret LaMontagne. The White House search engine coughs up seven entries for “Margaret Spellings.”
The comparative invisibility of Margaret LaMontagne/Spellings lends credence to John DiIulio’s notion, expressed in Ron Suskind’s January Esquire piece, that what little domestic policy the Bush administration generates comes out of Karl Rove’s hip pocket. (DiIulio has since disavowed the criticism, which came principally from an e-mail that DiIulio sent Suskind.) Now Chatterbox learns he was incorrect when he identified Margaret LaMontagne as director of the Domestic Policy Council. The Domestic Policy Council doesn’t have a director!
This is a bit complicated, but bear with us. In the earlier item, Chatterbox identified Spellings as “director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.” Chatterbox did this because Bruce Reed, the person who held Spellings’ title (“assistant to the president for domestic policy”) in the Clinton White House, was also director of the Domestic Policy Council. Also, Suskind’s piece had identified Spellings as “head of the DPC.” Who else but the assistant to the president for domestic policy would logically run the Domestic Policy Council?
But Dana Milbank, White House correspondent for the Washington Post, had several months earlier identified Jay Lefkowitz, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy, as … “the new head of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.” Milbank subsequently identified Lefkowitz as “head” of the Domestic Policy Council in a Dec. 26 story that pointed out Bush hadn’t produced much in the way of domestic policy. Chatterbox e-mailed Milbank to alert him that he’d misidentified Lefkowitz—Spellings was head of the Domestic Policy Council. Milbank replied that, no, Lefkowitz was director of the Domestic Policy Council. Public Papers of the Presidents, a government-produced compilation, backed Milbank up. It said last January that Lefkowitz had been named “Director of the Domestic Policy Council.” So did the private-but-authoritative Federal Document Clearing House.
At this point, Chatterbox decided to phone the White House. A press officer wrote down Chatterbox’s question (“Who runs the Domestic Policy Council?”), promised to phone back with an answer, and never did. The next day, Chatterbox phoned Spellings’ office. Unfortunately, Chatterbox got flummoxed and asked the receptionist who the “chairman” of the Domestic Policy Council was. “I’m not sure,” she answered, and put Chatterbox on hold. When she got back, she said, “There is no chair for the Domestic Policy Council.” (Not true, incidentally. According to Executive Order 12859, issued in August 1993, the president is chairman of the Domestic Policy Council.) Chatterbox hung up, realized he’d said “chairman” when he’d meant “director,” and phoned back. This time, Chatterbox was referred to Brian Besanceney, director for domestic policy communications. Spellings’ “formal title is ‘assistant to the president for domestic policy,’ which makes her director of the Domestic Policy Council,” Besanceney explained. Apparently, though, Spellings doesn’t formally hold the “director” title. No one does. To make things more confusing, Chatterbox subsequently learned that Lefkowitz’s Bush White House predecessor, John Bridgeland, did have the title, “director of the Domestic Policy Council.” (Bridgeland is now director of the USA Freedom Corps.) After Bridgeland left, nobody had the title.
Does Spellings run the Domestic Policy Council? Chatterbox has it on good authority that she does. There are two meetings per week, one with the entire staff and one with eight or nine people in the most important areas. Spellings presides over them. What are they like? Chatterbox consulted David Frum’s new book, The Right Man, which is the only insider account yet published about the Bush White House. But Frum doesn’t mention LaMontagne/Spellings at all. In Frum’s view, the 2001 tax plan “was the greatest domestic achievement of Bush’s presidency. It would also be the last.” That’s actually a bit unfair, because it overlooks the education bill. But Chatterbox catches Frum’s drift.