New Book Titled “The Obamas” Reveals More of What We Already Know

hcsp.jpgThen-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel offered his resignation to President Barack Obama in the winter of 2010 after a series of columns appeared depicting him as the lone element keeping the Obama presidency intact. 


According to then senior adviser David Axelrod, Emanuel understood that the stories “were an embarrassment” to the president. The president, already suffering from a setback to his health care reform effort, declined Emanuel’s offer to resign, despite being convinced that his chief of staff was the main source for the columns.

“I’m not accepting it,” Obama replied. “Your punishment is that you have to stay here and get this bill done. I’m not letting you off the hook.”
That revelation is one of the more explosive included in “The Obamas,” a new book by Jodi Kantor of The New York Times about the first few years of the Obama administration and the strains that it produced on the president’s marriage — strains that were ultimately overcome.
The dramatics that surrounded the passage of health care reform — culminating in Emanuel’s near-resignation — reflect the type of struggles that routinely pitted Emanuel against the first lady during the first two years of the Obama administration. The two jockeyed for influence over the president even before he formally took office.
Kantor, who interviewed for the book 33 White House staffers (many on several occasions) but not the president or the first lady, reports that Michelle Obama had “doubts” about the choice of Emanuel as chief of staff. Emanuel, in turn, had been opposed to bringing Valerie Jarrett, the Obamas’ longtime mentor, into the White House as a senior adviser.
Once the administration began, the frictions only escalated. Emanuel rejected an effort on the part of Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, Jackie Norris, to be part of his 7:30 a.m. staff meeting. The administration did not outfit her with a speechwriter for some time. And the first lady’s office grew so isolated from the rest of the presidential orbit that aides there began, as Kantor writes, “referring to the East Wing as ‘Guam’ — pleasant but powerless.”
“Michelle and Rahm Emanuel had almost no bond; their relationship was distant and awkward from the beginning. She had been skeptical of him when he was selected, and now he returned the favor; he was uneasy about first ladies in general, several aides close to him said, based on clashes with Hillary Clinton in the 1990s that became so severe that she had tried to fire him from her husband’s administration,” writes Kantor. “Now Emanuel was chief of staff, a position that almost never included an easy relationship with the first lady. They were the president’s two spouses, in a sense, one public and official and one private and informal.”
The tug of war between Michelle Obama and Rahm Emanuel for the president’s spiritual or political soul contributed to a White House that was far more disorganized and friction-filled than the public perception holds. Kantor reports that then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was often deployed to push back against the first lady, informing her that she couldn’t take a private vacation on a state visit, spend large amounts on White House redecoration, or buy expensive clothes.
Michelle Obama, who came to politics skeptically but saw her husband as someone capable of lofty achievements, worked hard not to be isolated. She sent emails to Jarrett when she had complaints about news coverage, which Jarrett would forward to others after removing the first lady’s name from them. When she couldn’t wedge certain events or people into her husband’s schedule, she would send her missives to Alyssa Mastromonaco, the president’s director of scheduling. The emails, Kantor writes, “were so stern that Mastromonaco showed them around to colleagues, unsure of how to respond to her boss’s wife’s displeasure.”
Source: The Huffington Post | Sam Stein & Marcus Baram