Reagan's troika: seeting the pace
Inside the White House the Meese-Baker-Deaver trio is being increasingly referred to as the "Big Three." Edwin S. Meese III, counselor to the President, is perhaps the most influential of the three; James Baker III is the White House chief of staff; and Michael K. Deaver is deputy chief of staff and assistant to the President.
The political stature of these three stems directly from their access to President Reagan. They meet with him daily, first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon, and often are found hovering around him at other times of the day.
Mr. Meese and Mr. Deaver are longtime friends and key associates of the President, whose relationship dates back to Reagan's California governorship and early presidential campaigning days.
Mr. Baker, campaign manager for Vice-President George Bush during the primaries last year, won the President's admiration when he served as Reagan's senior political adviser during the fall campaign.
Meese's chief responsibility is to make certain that the President is able to fully utilize the expertise of his Cabinet members. This makes him somewhat of a traffic cop who keeps his eye on the structured, cabinet government that the President has set up. He sees to it that the Cabinet -- in small, specialized groups or as a whole -- meets frequently and provides the main information and recommendations from which Reagan will make his decisions.
Meese also has the task of preventing any White House aides from using their access to the President as a means of pushing Cabinet members and their counsel aside.
Baker is the chief coordinator in the White House. Among many White House assistants who answer to Baker is James Brady, the President's press secretary. Max Friedersdorf, head of the presidential liaison-with- Congress team, also comes under the direction of the chief of staff.
President Carter tried to operate without a chief of staff for quite a while. Then he finally placed Hamilton Jordan in that position. But when Mr. Jordan moved completely into the political campaign, the job went to Jack Watson.
Actually, Baker and Meese are working so well together that they sometimes shift roles on some specific chore.
There are times when Baker will substitute for Meese and work with a Cabinet member on some coordinating problem. Likewise, Meese will jump into a chief-of-staff function on occasion, perhaps dealing with Mr. Friedersdorf or Mr. Brady. and, on occasion, Deaver will put on either Baker's or Meese's hat.
A close observer of the "Bit Three" says: "It turns out that these three fellows like each other. That's important. And we had to find that out. Also, they trust each other. That's even more important."
"Beyond that," this observer continuted, "these men are all so very flexible. Thus, it is easy for them to help each other.
"I tell you, one of the most important developments in this administration is the beautiful way this Meese-Baker- Deaver team is functioning."
Deaver's role is a little difficult to describe.
But observers of the Reagan saga, going back some years, say Deaver is so much in tune with the President that he knows instinctively where Reagan will stand on almost any question that comes up. He also is known to be genuinely without great political ambition and therefore is deemed always to be pushing the President's interests and not his own.