What could have been: leavitt maps out Romney's transition and first 200 days

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:02 PM

Thomas Burr

If he had won, President Mitt Romney would have waived requirements for the Affordable Care Act, approved the Keystone Pipeline, opened more domestic drilling sites, slashed nonsecurity spending by 5 percent and tossed out labor requirements for federal contracts.

All in the first 200 days.

That’s according to a blueprint laid out by former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who had launched what would have been the most comprehensive, detailed presidential transition in the nation’s history.

Leavitt on Wednesday unveiled a book highlighting his team’s efforts to prepare for a possible Romney presidency, from vetting potential hires to developing policy papers to enacting the promises Romney was offering on the campaign trail.

In the end, Romney lost to President Barack Obama, but Leavitt said he was set to go had the electors gone the other way.

‘‘We had built a ship, it was ready to sail, all hands were on deck, the motors were warmed up and so it was a disappointment,” Leavitt said. “It was many weeks before I didn’t wake up in the morning thinking what would have happened on that day.”

The 138-page “Romney Readiness Project 2012: Retrospectives and Lessons Learned” outlines the “narrow and deep” plans that Leavitt headed up to prepare Romney to govern. Much of the book identifies how Leavitt set up the “federal government in miniature,” with teams assigned to develop policy and metrics the team had to complete as the campaign neared its end.

Only a few pages of the book show the project’s 200-day plan for a Romney administration, most of it talking points from the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign.

Leavitt on Wednesday declined to say how a Romney presidency would have been different.

‘‘Our purpose here isn’t to contrast the political,” said Leavitt, who also had served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services. “Our purpose is to say, here’s what we did. We think it will be valuable.”

In the past, presidential campaigns were more quiet about planning to transition to the White House and were left with only some 77 days from Election Day to Inauguration Day to put the final touches on the new administration.

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, says previous campaigns were wary of setting up a transition team as to not be seen as “measuring the drapes” but that it’s vitally important to have a smooth change in government.

‘‘How you begin sets the stage for everything else you do after,” Stier said, praising Leavitt and his team for a “remarkable effort” in documenting their planning for others to later copy.

Leavitt said he spoke to Romney weekly while heading the transition project and also heralded the Obama administration’s help in diving into the mammoth endeavor.

Chris Lu, who headed Obama’s move into the White House in January 2009, said Leavitt’s work in putting together a book on the transition was a “remarkable accomplishment.”

‘‘I will highly recommend this book to future transitions,” Lu said.

While many pundits suggested that Leavitt could have been named Romney’s chief of staff, the former Utah governor said there were no conversations about an administration job.

Some people were vetted for potential jobs but only up to the point before the person would have to be aware of the background check. There are no names in the book for who would have been nominated to specific jobs.

‘‘This is not about what might have been, this is about what we learned,” Leavitt said.

Christopher Lidell, the executive director of the Romney Readiness Project, said the team’s effort should provide a roadmap for future presidential campaigns.

“I wish I had this book at the start,” Lidell said. “We were learning on the fly.”

Reach Salt Lake Tribune writer Thomas Burr at tburr@sltrib.com.

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