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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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White House veterans Axelrod and Fleischer address Rudder crowd

Photo by Shelby Knowles

Roland Martin moderates a discussion and question section with Ari Fleischer and David Axelrod about the major events that occurred during their careers, such as Sept. 11. 

Former White House staffers blurred party lines Wednesday, discussing their experiences in central roles under the two most recent American presidents. 
David Axelrod, senior advisor to President Barack Obama and Ari Fleischer, press secretary for President George W. Bush, addressed a crowd in Rudder Theater.
The discussion, hosted by the Wiley Lecture Series, focused on defining moments in both administrations while detailing how the White House staff plays a large role in the presidential decision-making process. 
Fleischer said working as press secretary allowed him an inside look into the mind of the president. 
“You’re a firsthand witness to history — you sit in these meetings and you hear it all, you see it all,” Fleischer said. “My job is to council the president on what to say.”
Axelrod, who has advised Obama for six years, said the White House always faces unexpected problems.
“When you’re in the White House you learn to respect not only the people who sit in that Oval Office, but all the people who work for them,” Axelrod said. “They come from different sides of the political rail. The administration is often defined by same major crisis that you couldn’t even imagine.”
For the Bush administration, that crisis was Sept. 11, 2001. Fleischer said on that day, he realized the importance of his job.
“On Sept. 11 I knew everything about what the president was doing, what he was saying. I was at his side all day,” Fleischer said. “I spent virtually the entire day in the president’s office on Air Force One taking verbatim notes on what he said and did. I realized this was a historic day and my notes are the only original notes describing what happened.” 
Axelrod said he experienced firsthand the high-pressure decisions the president faces, illustrated by the attack of an American ship off the coast of Somalia by pirates.
“I never gave a lot of thoughts to pirates,” Axelrod said. “Then there was the Captain Phillips incident. I’m standing with the president and they are saying, ‘The Navy seals have the boat and the captain of the pirates. You have 10 minutes to decide.’ That’s the way it is. You are posed with these questions all the time.”
Fleischer said the opportunity to work at the White House allowed him to see that preserving American freedom is vital to the success of the nation. 
“This is the blessing of America, and I don’t care what party you belong to, Democrat or Republican, it’s our job as Americans to preserve freedom, and that is the story of the White House,” Fleischer said. “That is what it was and always will be an honor to have worked there.”
Elaina Stephenson, political science senior, said the discussion revealed that anyone has a shot of working in the White House. 
“It leaves with you hope,” Stephenson said. “These people are sons of immigrants with simple backgrounds. They aren’t just these big gods, so you think that one day that could be you.”

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