Valerie Jarrett – Time for the "Shadow COS" to go? Never!

Editor’s Note – Is it time to fire someone? Valerie Jarrett? It’ll never happen, but for the good of America, she never should have been in such a position of influence in the first place. No, especially since she had so little experience and ability other than being Michelle’s best buddy and confidant, and therefore Barack’s protector extraordinaire.

When Bill Clinton was running for the White House in 1992, we were told that we were getting a two-for-one deal, himself and his wife Hillary. In 2008, no one told us that voting for Barack Obama was a three-for-one deal. Himself, his wife Michelle, and the “shadow COS” Valerie Jarrett. (COS – Chief of Staff)

In a surprisingly candid and thorough article posted at Politico, Carol Felsenthal takes a very brave and comprehensive look at Valerie Jarrett, she of the “lofty titles,” the “kibitzer-in-chief” to Obama, “Night Stalker,” “Eric’s appeals court,” and the reputation for “failing upwards.”

Felsenthal does such a good job describing what many of us have been known for a long time, that all we should really say is please read the whole article. It is truly comprehensive and eye-opening way to understand Obama himself, and further points to the one thing he does well, fail.

We just hope Carol Felsenthal has someone trustworthy who will dare to start her car for her every morning.

Carol Felsenthal is author of Power, Privilege & the Post: The Katharine Graham Story. She is also a contributing writer to Chicago and is the magazine’s political blogger.

Fire Valerie Jarrett – If Obama really wants to shake things up, his closest adviser should be the first to go.


Almost since the start of Barack Obama’s presidency, people who have actual, real duties in the West Wing of the White House—the working, executive part of the government, that is—have been urging him to do something about Valerie Jarrett. Push her into the East Wing, where she can hang out with Michelle Obama and the White House social secretary, or give her an ambassadorship—or something—but for Pete’s sake get her out of the way of the hard work of governing that needs to be done.

Now it’s really time to do it.Untitled

Let’s stipulate right away that it would be unfair to blame Jarrett, the longtime Obama family friend and confidante, for the walloping that the president and his party suffered at the polls on Tuesday. And Jarrett will no doubt be needed in the weeks ahead to comfort her old pals, Barack and Michelle.

What happened on Tuesday almost couldn’t be worse for Obama personally—not just the Senate’s going Republican but all those governorships lost, including Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s defeat in Obama’s adopted home state, even after the president and first lady came to Illinois to campaign for him. The morning after the elections, Democrats and their top staffers were hopping mad, blaming Obama and, by extension, his staff for the defeat.

But let’s also face facts—and expect the president to do so as well. We’re at that point in an already long-toothed presidency when things inside really need to change. In the days before anyone knew how brutally the Democrats would get beaten, politicians and staffers and pundits were urging a shakeup of the White House staff.

This is, after all, a time-honored practice for an administration in trouble. Somebody’s got to take the blame other than president, who’s not going to resign himself. Past presidents who fared badly in midterm elections have not been shy about making high-level changes—George W. Bush fired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after the 2006 midterms and also replaced his chief of staff. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan at the same low point in their administrations replaced their chiefs of staff when they failed to perform up to expectations or fell from grace. George H.W. Bush did the same to chief of staff John Sununu.

Jarrett is more than a mere senior staffer to this president, and of course she is not going to be fired outright. Not ever. If her role in this administration reflected reality, Jarrett would be called “First Big Sister” to both Michelle and Barack. And who would fire the kind of big sister who “really dedicated her entire life to the Obamas,” as New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor told me when I interviewed her about her intimate look at the first family, The Obamas? “She has thrown her entire life into their cause, and she’s made it very clear that she would happily run in front of a speeding truck for them.”

Very moving. But the fact is, on balance it appears that Jarrett has been more an obstructer than a facilitator over the past six years when it comes to governing, and it’s probably long past time for the president to move her gently into another role.

For starters, even today, nobody knows precisely what Jarrett does in the White House. What exactly do her titles—senior advisor to the president, assistant to the president in charge of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Office of Public Engagement, the White House Council on Women and Girls—mean? More to the point, Jarrett has often used the aura of authority that these titles give her to stand in the way of talented White House staffers and a smoother-running administration, according to several books that have been written about the Obama presidency, among them Chuck Todd’s forthcoming The Stranger.

Take Obama’s first-term chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who clashed early and often with Jarrett and felt “undermined” by her, as political reporter Jonathan Alter, the author of two in-depth books on the Obama administration, told me in 2013. Emanuel recognized early on that Jarrett was trouble and worried that she could become what former Newsweekcorrespondent Daniel Klaidman, in his book Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, called a “shadow COS.” Emanuel tried to sideline Jarrett by pressing for her to be appointed to Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat, according to Alter: “He wasn’t sure that he wanted a competing power base that was closer to the president and first lady than he was.” But Michelle Obama wanted Jarrett in the White House, so Emanuel’s plan fizzled. He left in the fall of 2010 to run for mayor of Chicago.

Former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was said to be another casualty of heated friction with Jarrett. In his new book, NBC’s Todd describes conflicts between Jarrett and Emanuel and Gibbs, and he adds senior adviser David Axelrod and Obama campaign manager and senior adviser David Plouffe to the list of those who had “run-ins” with Jarrett. All of them failed to persuade the president to nudge Jarrett out of the White House, Todd writes, because Jarrett held a “trump card” that the others did not—her close relationship with the first lady. Todd writes that “one advisor remembers the president sympathizing with a particular critique of Jarrett, but he made it clear that it was important that she be in the room, because it was important to Michelle that Valerie be in the room.”

West Wing staffers in general believed that Jarrett didn’t handle power well. Mark Halperin and John Heilemann report in their book Double Down that West Wing staffers “were scared to death” of her. Fear can be productive if the person wielding the power is accomplishing great things, but Jarrett was not.

FF20120108-Jodi-Kantor-Obamas-Part-2Her undefined role combined with what by all accounts has been almost unlimited proximity to the Obamas has proved a bad mix. She seems to isolate the president from people who might help him or teach him something—and if there’s one thing that has become clear about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t get to hear enough outside voices. (According to Alter, she once declared that the Obamas wouldn’t be making “new friends” in Washington.)

Jarrett micromanages guest lists for White House events big and small, hangs out in the private quarters and often joins the Obamas for dinner, says little in meetings, but walks out whispering in the president’s ear and leaving nervous staffers in her wake, according to Alter.

She vacations with the first family in Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard. She is often the last one they speak to at night, and according to Alter, White House staffers took to calling her the “Night Stalker.”

Last month, none other than Mitt Romney was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article reflecting on the well-established insularity of the Obama White House: “I won’t mention who it was, but I met with one of the nation’s top Republican leaders, and he said, ‘You know, the strange thing is that the president seems to answer to only two people—Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama.’”

Jarrett wields real power on personnel matters, but her choices often seem based on whom she particularly likes rather than who might be best suited for the job. She reportedly pushed the president to give a personal favorite, Eric Holder, the attorney general’s job, then propped Holder up in the face of harsh (and, to the president, very damaging) criticism over controversies ranging from Holder’s “nation of cowards” speech, which accused Americans of racism, to the “Fast and Furious” quasi-scandal involving questionable sting operations run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. (In doing so she acquired another nickname—“Eric’s appeals court.”) When Holder delivered his resignation speech earlier this year, he thanked the president, the vice president, his family and Valerie Jarrett.

She is also supposed to be the president’s liaison to business, which was “an effort that many in the West Wing believe she failed at,” writes Todd. “And yet they didn’t get why she didn’t pay a price.” Jarrett walked into the White House with some impressive looking credentials: CEO of the Habitat Company, chairman of the board of the Chicago Stock Exchange, director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

But Chicago business people who knew Jarrett have told me over the years that she was not respected for her business skills. In January 2011, when Bill Daley, the banker and former commerce secretary who had top credentials in both politics and business, was brought in to replace Emanuel as chief of staff and to improve Obama’s relations with business, Jarrett was not happy and “frequently shared her unflattering assessments with Obama,” Politico’s Glenn Thrush wrote in an ebook about the 2012 campaign. Daley lasted barely a year.


Many Wall Streeters, meanwhile, considered her “a political hack, ineffectual and entitled,” Halperin and Heilemann write. And economists who talk to her about policy are sometimes astonished at the things that come out of her mouth, reflecting very little understanding of economic solutions. Although she has no experience in foreign policy either, she regularly travels abroad with the president. “She would frequently take one of the half-dozen seats alongside the president in bilateral meetings,” Alter wrote, “which meant one less seat for a policy expert.”

It’s not that she hasn’t accomplished anything. Jarrett, who holds a law degree from the University of Michigan, has public service in her genes and has used the White House bully pulpit to promote the work of the White House Council on Women and Girls, focusing attention on such issues as equal pay for equal work, family leave and affordable child care. Jarrett’s council also co-sponsors the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, charged with “provid[ing] institutions with additional tools to respond to and address [campus] rape and sexual assault.”

But along the way, no White House staffer has garnered more distracting and embarrassing press than Jarrett. Most of the stories, in one way or another, portray her as entitled and clueless. There’s the New York Times profile in which she flags a four-star general to order a drink. Then there’s the “Magic of Valerie” memo that New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich wrote about in his book This Town—said to be intended to counter the negative press on her, but which instead heaped further humiliation on her head with a ham-handed deputy White House press secretary concocting a talking-points list of 33 of Valerie’s unsung virtues.

My favorite was the following: “Valerie is someone here who other people inside the building know they can trust. (need examples).” And, of course, there’s her round-the-clock Secret Service protection. The Chicago Sun Times gossip columnist Mike Sneed wrote last month that Jarrett “has been criticized for personal use of her Secret Service security detail” and is thought a “double diva for using her bodyguards as personal valets.” In too many instances, she seems to be more interested in the trappings of her office (and Obama’s) than in the decisions of the office. This fall, she had an “extended cameo” on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” playing herself and making a cold call to the main character, Alicia Florrick, urging her to run for state’s attorney in Chicago.

Jarrett’s questionable career inside the White House somehow symbolizes the opportunity cost of the Obama presidency—a wasted chance to make change. From foreign trips to White House policy meetings, she is occupying a critical space that ought to belong to an operator focused on governing and government, someone experienced in the levers of the bureaucracy and playing on the world stage. Now in his sixth year, humbled by the midterms, the president badly needs the best people around him, people who can provide real advice and build a lasting legacy. Instead, he’s got the palace guard watching his back—and judging from Obama’s poll numbers, they haven’t done it well.

Rather than boosting the president, lifting him above the clouds and helping him be—well—presidential, Jarrett appears to drag him down into the weeds. As Thrush wrote in his ebook, staff hated her because she filled his head with negative extraneous stories. Finally, the campaign realized they needed to dispatch Jarrett to her own campaign events to calm him down.

So if Obama is considering a shakeup, why not finally add Jarrett—the lady of the lofty titles, enormous influence on her boss and few actual accomplishments that have helped the shaker-in-chief—to the mix? Well, we know it’s not going to be a traditional firing, and it’s probably too late to give her an ambassadorship. But if Jarrett’s not going anywhere, how to safely occupy her—and keep her out of the way—until she turns off the lights in the White House on January 20, 2017?

I did email Jarrett’s spokeswoman, Rachel Racusen, for some thoughts on this question, as well as any comments she might have on all the criticism of her boss. She didn’t have much to say about that on the record. But I do have an idea of my own.

There’s a role that perhaps Valerie Jarrett was born to fill: The Obama librarian. Having written a book about Bill Clinton’s post-White House years, I followed Clinton’s work on his library—his legacy—during his final two Monica Lewinsky-scarred years in the White House. The more he felt marginalized—as Obama was during the midterms and increasingly will be in the run-up to the 2016 presidential race—the more Clinton clung to his library plans. His library became the focus of his life, and a kind of comfort as he braved the humiliation of impeachment and the exposure of his sad sex life with an intern.

So, the library. People in Chicago believe Valerie means to run it, whether it’s in Chicago—probably at the University of Chicago—in New York at Columbia University, one of Obama’s alma maters, or in Hawaii. (I’ve been told, never for attribution, that Valerie favors Columbia because, she has told the Obamas, it will be so much fun for them all to live in New York.) The president could put her in charge, but alas, given her track record of failing upward, that might not help his endangered legacy either.

"Let them eat cake" – The 1% Life of the Obamas

Editor’s Note – The 1% lifestyle – such nasty press and rhetoric about the rich, but where is the media about the 1% lifestyle of the Obamas?

When anyone points out how much the Obamas’ vacations, and what it costs, the immediate knee jerk reaction is to cite the George W. Bush years as if there is some moral equivalence, a common tactic. But the critique on the Obamas largesse goes much deeper, and it’s not just the cost, it’s in the optics, a term we hear so much about in political parlance, often ignoring any Obama ‘optics’.

In the following article, its refreshing to see someone point out the vast differences. The left whitewashes all that Obama does but they certainly tarred the Bush family at the drop of a vowel, or a mangled word, to him chopping wood at his Texas ranch – a double standard that even makes the word hypocrisy seem far too soft a description.

Let them eat cake” seems to be the unspoken mantra, yet that does not matter unless it was about Mitt and Ann Romney. Perception is the rule, and it certainly depends on who you ask, especially when convincing “low information” voters.

The Obamas live the 1 percent life

By Joseph Curl – Washington Times oped

Being president of the U.S., the most powerful man in the world, is often most about perception. The man (or, one day, woman) in the job takes actions large and small every day, but it is the perception of the man that seeps into the everyday lives of working Americans.

That’s why presidential candidates always hit Philadelphia for a cheesesteak during campaigns (Democrats to Pat’s, Republicans to Geno’s). Sure, they’re running billion-dollar operations trying to win the White House, but one picture of them wolfing down a Cheez Whiz-covered glob of meat on a Philly street hits home with millions of voters: “Hey, that guy’s just like me! He loves him a Pat’s [or Geno’s] cheesesteak, too!” (Unless you’re John F. Kerry and order Swiss cheese — then everyone hates you.)

Sometimes, that perception cuts to the core. Like when President George W. Bush stopped playing golf in 2003, at the height of the Iraq War.

“I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal,” he said years later. “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them.”

That’s also why Mr. Bush did two other things, without fanfare or praise. First, he never headed home to his Texas ranch until after Christmas, instead going to Camp David for a few days. That way, the hundreds of people revolving around him at all times — White House staff, Secret Service agents, reporters, photographers, all the others — could spend the holiday with their families in and around Washington, D.C. No one ever reported that — until this column.

Second, he rarely attended sporting events, although he once owned a baseball team and was a self-confessed stats junkie. His thinking there was the same: If he went to a baseball game (right down the street from the White House), his mere presence would mean hours and hours of extra security for fans. He once stopped off at the Daytona 500 and the metal detectors through which every fan had to pass left thousands outside in line when the green flag fell; he didn’t attend many sporting events after that.

But something remarkable has happened with these occupants of the White House: Neither President Obama nor first lady Michelle appear to give a damn about perception. They won the White House and, by God, they’re going to enjoy their time there, no matter the cost. And who cares what you think, anyway?

How else to explain the nonstop vacations the pair keep taking during what Mr. Obama calls the “worst financial crisis since the Great Depression”? In 2013, the First Family has already enjoyed three vacations — that’s one a month. (Sorry, Joe America, you might have to forget your week at the beach again this year, but make sure you get those taxes in on time!)

The Obamas ended 2012 and kicked off 2013 in an $8 million, 6,000-square-foot house in Hawaii (they left well before Dec. 25, by the way). There, the president played five rounds of golf (breaking the 100-rounds-as-president threshold). Scarcely a month into Term 2, Mrs. Obama headed off for Aspen, taking along the couple’s daughters. Vice President Joseph R. Biden also hit the Colorado slopes. While the girls (and Joe) were gone, Mr. Obama nipped down to Florida for a four-day boys weekend of golf, teeing it up with his buddies — and Tiger Woods. He hit the links again this weekend, then dropped in for an NCAA tournament game in Washington.

Jumpin’ Joe, for his part, spent New Year’s in the Virgin Islands and popped off over the Easter weekend for a golf outing at the glorious Kiawah Island, S.C. (where rounds of golf on the spectacular Ocean Course run $353 — nearly $20 a hole). His third vacation of the year came the same week as reports that he and his entourage spent $460,000 for a single night in London and $585,000 for a night at a five-star hotel in Paris.

Then, last week, reports emerged that the Obama girls were kicking it in the Bahamas for spring break. Days later, a Colorado news station, KMTV, reported that the girls were now skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho. The White House flacks didn’t like that one bit.

“From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest,” said Kristina Schake, communications director to the first lady. “We have reminded outlets of this request in order to protect the privacy and security of these girls.”

At their demand, the station scrubbed the report without explanation. What losers.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the daughters. Never has. They are wonderful girls. The issue is use of taxpayer money, especially since Mr. Obama has shut down the White House to visitors, citing the cost of security. All these trips cost millions for Secret Service protection; couldn’t they just skip a few vacations so taxpayers could visit “America’s House”?

But no, the Obamas don’t care a whit about that, or the perception of them living high on the hog while many hardworking Americans are struggling to get by — and hoping to save enough for just one vacation this year.

And that perception, juxtaposed with reality, more than nearly anything else, tells you an awful lot about this president.


• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report. He can be reached at and @josephcurl.