On Monday, November 14, 2016, the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy, in coordination with the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, hosted a discussion on the changing role of presidential spouses at this year’s ConocoPhillips White House Lecture. The program included a presentation on the influence of presidential spouses by author Lauren Wright, and a panel with former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, Anita McBride; speechwriter and communications director for First Lady Hillary Clinton, Lissa Muscatine; and former ABC anchor Ann Compton who moderated the panel discussion. The night began with an introduction by David Jones, CEO of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation. Mr. Jones pointed out various dignitaries in the room, ranging from Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, to the recognized sailors of the year from the USS George H.W. Bush. Most importantly in attendance were President and Mrs. Bush for whom everyone stood applauding on their entrance. After Mr. Jones completed his introduction, Dr. Wright took the podium to provide some remarks and background from her recently published book, On Behalf of the President: Presidential Spouses and White House Communications Strategy Today.
The book was based on her dissertation at Georgetown University on the influence of first ladies on public opinion. Dr. Wright described how the role of presidential spouses has grown over the years. She pointed out that their approval polling tends to be higher than that of the President, and for the most part, much higher than that of the Vice-President—making the First Lady a powerful asset to White House communication strategies and on the campaign trail. Another characteristic that Dr. Wright emphasized was the increasing number of policy initiatives supported by the spouses, and how those initiatives typically align with and support the policies of the President. Whether it is Mrs. Bush’s push to increase childhood literacy in support of President Bush’s legislative agenda on No Child Left Behind, or Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign in conjunction with President Obama’s support of the Affordable Care Act, spouses pick initiatives that support and expand the ideas of the Presidents.
At the conclusion of Dr. Wright’s remarks, Dr. Lori Taylor, Director of the Mosbacher Institute, introduced the rest of the panelists, and Anita McBride, Lissa Muscatine, and Ann Compton joined Dr. Wright on stage for a discussion on the role of spouses in the White House. Among the topics they discussed were what the American people expected from a presidential spouse. Ms. McBride commented on the need to draw on their ability to be relatable and allow people to draw on their authenticity. Ms. Muscatine pointed out that once in office, first ladies are under the microscope, and knowing how to deal with that type of pressure and coverage is key for a successful presidential spouse. Another question moderated by Ms. Compton looked to the historical context of the presidential spouses and asked the panelists for the defining moment when the first ladies gained prominence in the policy-making agenda of the White House. While there was differing discussion on when it began, all of the panelists pointed to the importance of First Lady Rosalynn Carter and her role in creating a permanent staff dedicated to the agenda of the President’s spouse.
After the panel concluded, Ms. Compton had a surprise presentation for the audience highlighting the experiences of First Lady Barbara Bush. The slide show concluded with the words, “She always was at the president’s side. She had his back, and she had ours.” The Bush School was honored to host an event dedicated to understanding the position that Mrs. Bush held with such dignity and pride.
Lauren A. Wright received her PhD in Government from Georgetown University in December 2014 where she majored in American politics and political methodology. Lauren’s dissertation received distinction and was nominated for the George C. Edwards III Award in presidency research. Lauren is also a board member of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan group of scholars, journalists, and policy experts whose combined efforts and knowledge aims to ensure a smooth presidential transition every four years.
Lauren graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Wake Forest University in 2010, where her research won the John Allen Easley Medal and Award for Excellence in Religion and the Elizabeth Phillips Award for the Best Essay in Women’s and Gender Studies. Lauren joined the Meg Whitman for Governor campaign shortly after her college graduation, where she became one of the youngest field representatives for the California Republican Party. Her interest in politics began in college when she spent one semester in Washington interning for Face the Nation anchor Bob Schieffer at CBS News, and another summer interning for United States Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Lauren’s expertise in strategic communications spans the public and private sector. She currently serves as Director of Investor Relations for NV5 Global, Inc., a publically traded engineering and environmental services corporation with offices nationwide (Nasdaq: NVEE). There, she is responsible for crafting and disseminating a clear and compelling investment message to the public on behalf of the company.
Ann Compton has always been a pioneer. As the first woman assigned to cover the White House on network television and with 41 years on the air for ABC News, her longevity and impact are unparalleled. After retiring from daily coverage in 2014, Compton reignited her legendary career by returning to ABC to cover the 2016 political conventions, as well as accepting a fellowship at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government focusing on media coverage of the 2016 election. She now combines her personal experiences on the White House beat with fresh scholarship from the prestigious Miller Center for presidential studies in Virginia.
Compton’s career at ABC News spanned seven presidents and 10 presidential campaigns. Assigned to the White House in 1974, she reported for ABC News broadcasts from Washington and around the globe, traveling with Presidents, Vice Presidents, and First Ladies. President Barack Obama announced her retirement when calling on her at a West Wing news conference saying, “Ann Compton, everybody here knows, is not only the consummate professional but is also just a pleasure to get to know.”
Compton was traveling with President George W. Bush on September 11, 2001, and was the only broadcast reporter to remain on Air Force One to report on behalf of all the press during the chaotic hours following the terrorist attacks, when the President was unable to return directly to Washington. For that coverage, which she considers the most significant story of her career, Compton received special recognition in the awards bestowed on ABC’s coverage, including an Emmy, a Peabody, and the Silver Baton from the DuPont awards at Columbia University.
Lissa Muscatine is co-owner of Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC.
Before acquiring the store with her husband, Bradley Graham, in June 2011, Lissa had spent her professional career in journalism, politics, and government. She most recently served in the Obama Administration as Director of Speechwriting and Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She was a senior advisor on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and was co-collaborator on Clinton’s White House memoir, Living History. She also has served as an unofficial adviser to Secretary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
During the Clinton Administration, Muscatine served as a Presidential Speechwriter, Chief Speechwriter to the First Lady, and later as Director of Communications to the First Lady and Deputy Assistant to the President.
Lissa began her career in journalism at the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Mississippi and The Washington Star before joining The Washington Post, where she spent a dozen years covering beats from politics to sports. She has contributed commentary pieces to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Huffington Post. She has received several journalism awards, and is a frequent speaker on political communication at area universities.
With service spanning more than 30 years as a White House advisor, chief of staff, diplomacy advisor and human rights advocate, the influence of Anita McBride’s body of work is recognized in Washington and around the globe each day. Through her appointments to posts including the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, George W. Bush Presidential Library and Institute and the Board of the White House Historical Association, among others, McBride brings a powerful, non-partisan impact to all of the projects and programs in which she is involved.
Currently, McBride is Executive-in-Residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, DC, where she directs programming and national conferences on the legacies of America’s first ladies and their historical influence on American politics, policy and global diplomacy. She also serves as an advisor to the university’s president and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.
She served as an assistant to President George W. Bush, as well as Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush. McBride directed the first lady’s travel to 67 countries in four years to support U.S. foreign policy objectives in human rights, women’s empowerment, global health and education, and human freedom, including historic visits to Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Thai-Burma border.
She co-founded the RAND African First Ladies Initiative and Fellowship program, partnering with African first ladies to support their efforts as champions of change in their countries, as well as train their staff and advisors in strategies for managing an effective first lady’s office.She is an advisor to the Laura W. Bush Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute and a consultant to several other global non-profit institutions. She also is a member of the US-Afghan Women's Council, the International Republican Institute’s Women’s Democracy Network, the National Italian American Foundation, and is a Founding Advisor of RightNow Women PAC. McBride began her political career as a campaign volunteer for Reagan for President in 1980 and went on to work as a finance field representative for Senate and House campaigns as well as the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1984. She is a consultant to HBO’s Emmy-award winning series, Veep, and is a frequent speaker, print source, contributor and news commentator on the operations and history of the White House and its occupants.