Who's who in White House pecking order
Washington — After a quick shakedown period, it is obvious who the most influential people in the Reagan administration are. On a continuing basis, the so-called "big three" -- White House counselor Edwin Meese III, chief of staff James A. Baker III, and deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver --are, and probably will remain, the prime wielders of influence that comes from close contact with a president.
Vice-President George Bush, in the aftermath of the assassination attempt against Mr. Reagan, moved close to holding the country's reins. But Mr. Bush, while assuming many day-to-day duties of the President, has been more of a pinch-hitter than an adviser. As time goes on, this role will recede to some degree.
Those who have watched the Reagan administration closely, especially since the shooting, are unanimous in saying it is Mr. Meese, Mr. Baker, and Mr. Deaver who have, almost like a corporate board working under the president of a firm, kept the executive branch running.
Their primacy is seen in the acknowledgment of the very term "big three," not only in the White House but also among Cabinet members. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger referred to them in this manner at breakfast with reporters the other day. And in his daily briefings, acting presidential press secretary Larry Speakes uses the term again and again.
Meese, Baker, and Deaver speak quietly and humbly about it all. They insist their roles are solely administrative and that they do not exert influence. But Reagan depends on them to keep him posted on an early-morning, late-afternoon basis every day about what is going on in the world, what his problems are, and what action is needed.
As the three men keep the government moving, they have only to refer to the President on broad questions of policy -- making decision after decision themselves. It's "implementation," one of them told the Monitor the other day. "We only carry out."
But President-watchers here say this "carry-out" function is so broad that Meese, Baker, and Deaver almost inevitably and without evidencing any grab for power are exerting tremendus influence -- reflective power that allows them to issue instructions and orders that carry tremendous weight.
Beyond them -- and, of course, Bush -- the most influential of the President's men appear to be shaping up as follows:
No. 5: Secretary Weinberger, a longtime close friend and associate of Reagan, whose pronouncements on foreign policy of late have been upstaging Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.
Weinberger insists that what he been commenting on "pertains only to defense." But observers see him playing a continuing role both in advising on foreign policy and in speaking out on the administration's position on many foreign policy issues.
Defense policy and foreign policy are often almost the same, one observer points out, adding: "So if the President wants to elevate Weinberger into the foreign field, it is easy for him to do so. And I think that's what he is doing."
Nos. 6-10: There is almost a tie, it seems, among Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan; Secretary Haig; Central Intelligence Agency Director William Casey; Attorney General William French Smith; and US Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada, who is not in the administration but is a close friend and adviser of the President.
Secretary Regan quickly won the respect and admiration of the President. Haig is highly influential simply because his job is so important. The other three have access and advisory power because of their long associations with Reagan.