‘First Friend’ Valerie Jarrett Reflects on 8 Years In the White House with the Obamas

President Barack Obama walks alongside senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington D.C. on Oct. 7, 2016, as Obama traveled to Chicago for the weekend. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama walks alongside senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington D.C. on Oct. 7, 2016, as Obama traveled to Chicago for the weekend. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

Chicago’s Valerie Jarrett has played a unique role in the c.

She was both a senior adviser to the president throughout his eight-year administration — it is extremely rare for White House staffers to stay for the duration — and a close friend of both Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. The three have been allies and confidantes for 25 years, leading Jarrett to sometimes be called their “first friend.”

On Wednesday, with less than a month to go before the Obamas leave the White House, Jarrett reflected on the past eight years while giving few clues about what her future holds.

Jarrett spoke from Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood, where she is spending Christmas with her 88-year-old mother, Barbara, whose residence is a short walk from the Obamas’ Chicago home.

She said that after the Obamas leave the White House she plans to relax and get reacquainted with relatives. She said she had no firm professional plans but expects to “roam” between Chicago, Washington and perhaps two or three other places.

“We’ll see,” Jarrett said. “I haven’t made any firm plans on what I’m going to do next.”

The president and the first lady have said they will stay in the capital until their younger daughter Sasha, 15, graduates high school in 2019. Jarrett’s only child, Laura Jarrett, became a Washington-based reporter for CNN last September, so the capital still will have a “big tug,” she said.

Jarrett, who is known to be circumspect, said she has not “made any decisions whatsoever” about whether she’ll run for office herself some day. “I have not given it a moment’s thought.” Nor would she say whether she plans to write a memoir.

“You’re asking me questions I haven’t even considered yet, so we’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll see what I have an appetite for,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett, who celebrated her 60th birthday last month, figures to have no shortage of job offers after leaving the White House, and also could hit the lecture circuit.

For now she’s finishing official business, citing a recent national summit for the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which aims to empower boys and young men of color.

“I’m not allowing myself the luxury of focusing on the future until Jan. 20,” she said, “and then I will.”

In Chicago, Jarrett worked under Mayors Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley. She said the “rough and tumble” politics of Chicago was “nothing” compared with what she saw in the capital, pointing to Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s upfront desire to see President Obama fail and the entrenched special interests with a “political and financial interest” in maintaining the status quo.

The “lowest point by far” of her tenure was the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Jarrett, who recently attended a memorial to mark the event’s fourth anniversary.

As a mother, she was pained, while the attack also brought back memories of a personal tragedy from 46 years ago, when her grandfather James E. Bowman was murdered during a robbery attempt in his Washington dental office. The fatal shooting took place just before Christmas in 1970.

She said she regrets there was no congressional action on gun control in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.

Jarrett said the high points of her White House years include the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to repeal. She said she’s lost count of the times Congress has voted unsuccessfully to repeal Obamacare but has yet to see a replacement measure that keeps intact its key provisions.

She said she won’t prejudge what Trump will do about the ACA but hopes he retains the goal of seeing that all Americans have affordable insurance.

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Source: Chicago Tribune | Katherine Skiba