A new book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, to be published on Tuesday, reveals that tensions developed between the First Lady Michelle Obama and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and former press secretary Robert Gibbs.
The new book The Obamas, is based on interviews with 33 present and former aides of the Obamas. The Washington Post reports that both President Obama and Michelle Obama declined interviews for the book.
Fox News comments that the book reveals that while Michelle Obama's image in public is that of a friendly and popular First Lady promoting children oriented programs, tending organic vegetable gardens and visiting families of servicemen, she went through a struggle to fulfillment in her role as the First Lady and repeatedly clashed with the president's top aides.
According to the new book, one of the most significant episodes in the series of clashes between Mrs. Obama and top White House aides was in relation to President Obama's health care reform. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, had proposed scaling down the health care reform plan in seeking a compromise after the Democrats lost their senate "super-majority." Mrs. Obama strongly criticized the suggestion, and according to the president speaking to his aides, "She feels as if our rudder isn't set right."
The president was finally won over by his wife. He rejected Emanuel's proposal to further scale down the already watered-down health reform package. In Kantor's words, the president "rejected his chief of staff's vision of the presidency...and instead pursued one more in line with the one he shared with the First Lady."
When it seemed that the health care reform would collapse, Mrs. Obama did not hide her feelings that she was displeased with the way the White House officials were handling things. There were media reports at the time that Emanuel was not fully committed to Obama's proposed health care overhaul. He offered to resign, but President Obama at first refused to accept his offer, but he later resigned and won the mayoral election in Chicago.
Mrs. Obama had tried unsuccessfully to convince her husband not to employ Emanuel, who is described as "a famously foul-mouthed Democratic operative with a reputation for political horse-trading and tirades littered with the 'f word.'" The first sign of tension between Mrs. Obama and Emanuel was when Emanuel refused to grant her request to join his morning staff meetings where the day's agenda was set.
Another significant episode was when Mrs. Obama was reported to have told the French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, that life in the White House was "hell." Mrs. Obama's remark almost caused a public relations crisis. Gibbs, who was the press secretary and presidential adviser, was upset and vehemently expressed his feelings to presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, after she told him that Mrs. Obama had expressed concerns about White House handling of the incident. According to kantor, Gibbs lost his temper and "cursed the first lady." Gibbs later tried to deflect the blame saying that Jarrett had provoked him and that his anger had been misplaced.
The job of correcting the First Lady on protocol often fell on Gibbs because the president "feeling guilty about the sacrifices his wife was making, was unwilling to tell her what she could not do... so Gibbs took on the task." Gibbs took on the difficult job of "internal enforcer of the rules of the political world, issuing a steady stream of warnings" to the First Lady on what she was not allowed to do, such as "she could not tack a private holiday on to a state visit," and "lavish sums on White House redecoration, or spend heavily on designer outfits.
The Telegraph describes the White House reaction to the book as cold. According to White House spokesman Eric Schultz, "This is the author's take, reflecting her own opinions, on a remarkably strong relationship between the President and First Lady - both of whom share an unwavering commitment to each other, and to improving the lives of Americans,"
Schultz said, "The book, an over-dramatization of old news, is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years. The author last interviewed the Obamas in 2009 for a magazine piece. These second-hand accounts are staples of every administration in modern political history and often exaggerated."
According to White House: "The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the president and first lady, reflect little more than the author's own thoughts.
Kantor's book is rich in anecdotal reconstruction of events and portrays the Obamas as uncomfortable with the constraints of life in the White House. The book reports that Mrs Obama was ambivalent about moving to the White House and initially contemplated remaining in Chicago with her daughters. According to the New York Times,
"Initially, she (Mrs. Obama) had considered postponing her move to the White House for months; after arriving, she bristled at its confinements and obligations...New to the ways of Washington but impassioned about what her husband had been elected to do, she saw herself as a guardian of values...Mrs. Obama’s difficulties illuminate some of the president’s central challenges in the White House, including how the Obamas’ freshness to political life, a selling point in 2008, became a liability in office. Her worries about his staff point to a chief executive with little management experience who clung to an inner circle less united than it appeared....Like many of the president’s supporters, Mrs. Obama was anxious about the gap between her vision of her husband’s presidency and the reality of what he could deliver."