Transcription – John McConnell Interview

Q: I know that Governor Bush kind of began the transition process [00:42:00] while all the recount stuff was going on. Did you know you were going to be working in the White House? Or when did you know you were going to be working in the White House?

MCCONNELL: I hoped and expected that we would keep doing what we were doing, if he and the vice president took power, but there was no discussion of that. I mean, really zero discussion of jobs, offices, nothing. It was all about — Christmas is coming, and we still don’t know what’s happening. The morning after the second Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, I called my grandmother in northern Wisconsin and said, “Grandma, it’s over.” She said, “Thank God, I couldn’t have lived through another day of this.” (laughter) It was hard for everybody in the sense that we just didn’t know. Are we going to the White House [00:43:00] or are we going to be job hunting at Christmas time? And, of course, it’s the same thing for the Gore people, and a lot of them were in the White House. Imagine that. Imagine what a terrible experience that was.

Q: So when did you know?

MCCONNELL: That we were going to work at the White House? I don’t remember a moment. It was just more of a question of we’ve still got stuff to do, and let’s keep doing it, and let’s get ourselves to Washington and let’s get in the transition office. I don’t remember there ever being a moment when somebody said, “Well, I’d like to tell you what you’re” — nothing like that. We just kept writing.

Q: But the team, the three of you, stuck together as a unit in terms of –

MCCONNELL: Yes.

Q: — moving from the campaign into the administration?

MCCONNELL: Yes. Yeah, we sure did. We kept doing what we were doing. [00:44:00]

Q: Was there any change in your role, any maybe division of labor once you made the transition from –

MCCONNELL: Well, from the beginning of the administration and throughout the eight years, I had major responsibilities for the vice president and just sort of stuck with that. But really, for the entire first time, with Mike and Matthew there, we did what we did in Austin. We wrote all the major addresses of the president, we edited everything else, any other thing we hadn’t written, and so the team really did what it did. I did have — and, of course, Matthew Scully and I worked together on a lot of Cheney speeches as well. Mike, not so much on Cheney speeches. He kind of left that to us. But Mike had a lot of — I mean, when he wasn’t in the office with us writing, he was off in policy meetings. [00:45:00] He would do brilliant outlines of speeches. Matthew and I were writing a lot, that was just all the time, either for the president or vice president, but 75% for the president.

Q: And then September 11th comes a long, and it turns out to be a very different presidency from the one that all of you had anticipated. How did that change things?

MCCONNELL: Well, in all of the respects that you would imagine. Suddenly the country is at war, and the country is afraid, and they look at the president differently. I remember Bob Dole [00:46:00] I think was the one who said that moment on the flattened fire truck in New York, with the bullhorn, he said something like that was Bush’s real inauguration or maybe he said his second inauguration, or something like that, making the point that that’s the moment that a lot of Americans really sort of focused on this new president and really saw him in the light that Americans so often do when the country is at war. OK, this is our guy. That was Bush’s moment, and, of course, a moment not involving any speechwriting participation. That was just a firefighter shouting, “We can’t hear you,” and then he just took it from there.

But, yes, everything changed, of course, the kind of writing we were doing — not the kind of writing — the topics that we were writing about changed dramatically. [00:47:00] From then on, I remember saying to Mike Gerson, we figured that every 10 days or so there was a major speech that had not been on the calendar 10 days before. From the time of 9-11, there was a major speech, an unexpected major speech maybe it was every 10 days or two weeks, there was just always something. There was just always something coming up that was completely unexpected, or something we had to really scramble to work on. The speeches we were working on just before 9-11, there was going to be some big rollout of some education initiative or whatever, just all these things just kind of fell away immediately when the country was under attack.