Book Review: The Gatekeepers-How The White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple

by Don Allen

You have to be the person who says no. You’ve got to the be the son of a bitch who basically tells somebody what the president can’t tell him” — Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton


Every president since George Washington has had a personal secretary, however, it wasn’t until 1857 that it was made an official White House position and paid for by the government, rather than by the president personally. In 1961, after a few name changes, power consolidations and shuffling of duties along the way, it finally evolved into the modern office of White House Chief of Staff, currently held by John F. Kelly for the Trump administration.

The Chief of Staff’s position is an incredibly important one: he oversees the White House staff; manages the Presidents schedule; decides who meets with the President; and negotiates with Congress. Because of these duties, he enjoys unparalleled access to the President, and, as the title of Chris Whipple’s book states, is known as “the gatekeeper”. Several of these men have gone on to other important positions, including Donald Rumsfeld (future Sec. of Defense), Alexander Haig (future Sec. of State), and Dick Cheney (future Vice-President).

Whipple’s book details this extraordinary position, which does not require Senate confirmation and serves completely at the President’s discretion, by interviewing seventeen living former Chief’s of Staff  and two former presidents. Starting with the Nixon administration and running through the Obama presidency, Whipple details how “…when the president makes a life-and-death decision, often the chief of staff is the only other person in the room. Each chief can make or break an administration, and each president reveals himself by the chief he picks…the chief of staff can make the difference between success and disaster”.


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