John Block: Cabinet Luncheon 2014

Before Christmas, I hosted the annual Cabinet Secretaries lunch at the famous Blair House. The Blair House is right across the street from the White House. It provides overnight lodging for dignitaries visiting the President. In fact, the Blair House is where President Reagan held his first Cabinet meeting in January 1981 before he had been inaugurated. He couldn’t use the White House then because Jimmy Carter was still in there. At that first meeting, I asked President Reagan to lift the Soviet grain embargo and about had my head taken off by Secretary of State Alexander Haig. He wanted concessions from the Soviets first.

This year at the Cabinet luncheon, we had about 50 Cabinet members and their spouses. Looking back, I recall when we held our first Christmas Cabinet luncheon at the Madison Hotel. At that luncheon, we only had six members of the Reagan Cabinet and Vice President Bush. We’ve never missed a year since then, and now we invite Cabinet members from both parties.

This year, we had Secretaries from the Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama years. The Department of Agriculture was well represented with Dan Glickman, Ann Veneman, Mike Johanns, and Yours Truly in attendance. We had Secretaries of State, Defense – Secretaries of everything. There was a clear impression that the attendees were convinced that they could do a much better job of running the government than today’s White House crowd.

Every year, each Cabinet member is asked to make a prediction for the new year. Some are serious and some are just funny.

Barbara Franklin predicted that trade promotion authority legislation would pass and be signed by President Obama. I hope she is right.

Ray LaHood said that a Republican governor will win the nomination to run for President in 2016. We have a lot of governors wanting the nomination.

Mike Johanns said that if Hillary Clinton decides not to run, Governor Jerry Brown (CA) would win the Democratic nomination.

Craig Fuller, with tongue in cheek, said that in 2015, 45% of the attendees would arrive by Uber.

Ed Harper predicted that the President will sign legislation for the trans pacific trade bill. That would be great.

I was reminded that, last year, I predicted that we wouldn’t get a farm bill, but we did. I’m happy that I was wrong.

There was a very positive, up-beat attitude in the room. We all felt that if we were back in the chairs, we would be able to solve the nation’s problems.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.

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