#MTP Trivia: In a reelection year, what WH COS defended the president’s VFW speech as “official travel” and not a “campaign trip” ?— Betsy Fischer Martin (@BetsyMTP) July 23, 2012
Answer: James Baker
This Monday, President Obama spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Reno, Nevada, while his Republican opponent Mitt Romney addressed the group on Tuesday. Both candidates kept their speeches focused on the veterans in front of them and the issues they faced, but campaign politics inevitably invaded the speeches, and the coverage surrounding them. The Obama reelection campaign classified the President’s speech Nevada as an “official” White House event, and not a “political” speech – a distinction that in effect means the campaign does not have to pay for the trip. Speeches by presidents, and presidential hopefuls, in front of the VFW have long been a staple at the group’s annual convention. And the accusation of playing politics with the event is not unique to this campaign season. In August of 1984, President Ronald Reagan’s White House Chief of Staff James Baker appeared on Meet the Press in the midst of the President’s reelection campaign against Democratic challenger Walter Mondale. Baker, one the president’s closest advisers who would go on to be one of the most frequent MTP guests, found himself facing tough questions about the reelection campaign’s practices. Many came from NBC News’ Bill Monroe, who got into a lively exchange with Baker about the Reagan’s visit to the VFW conference two days before that August Meet the Press program. Reagan’s speech never mentioned Mondale by name. But Monroe pointed out that many saw the speech as a campaign event – an attack on Mondale as weak on defense and assertion of Reagan’s own policy strengths and campaign themes. Baker surprisingly conceded that in a campaign season, such events “are sometimes very close, very difficult decisions and very gray lines.” But he insisted to the Meet the Press panel, as campaigns echo today, that the President’s speech was “official” and “not political.” Baker also defended the substance of Reagan’s speech, saying, “The President didn’t go there and ask for votes” and repeatedly argued that there was no “harsh attack” on Mondale, as Monroe had claimed. The public affairs group Common Cause, which Monroe mentioned in his question, would the next day file a complaint against the Reagan campaign with the Federal Elections Committee saying that it saw “no justification for treating as 'official business' the V.F.W. trip or any other similar campaign-related trip between now and the November election.”
You can read the text of Reagan’s speech before the VFW through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and watch his Chief of Staff James Baker discuss the speech on Meet the Press below.
Every Monday, Betsy Fischer Martin - the Executive Producer of Meet the Press - poses a trivia question on Twitter about the 64 years of history-making moments and guests on Meet The Press. Check back every Tuesday for answers and video clips!