Valerie Jarrett, the White House senior adviser who mentored both the president and first lady at the start of their careers in Chicago, usually stays out of the news. In Washington, that is taken as a sign she is far more influential than she or the White House lets on.
So when Jarrett does briefly become the news it’s significant, because it may provide a window into how the Obama White House really works.
This week there were several sightings of Jarrett in the media. She popped up as the chief defender of the White House’s sudden decision to delay enforcement of a key Obamacare mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance or face stiff fines. “As we implement this law, we have and will continue to make changes as needed,” Jarrett wrote in a post on the White House blog. In other words, continue to keep in touch with my office as we figure out how to manage this train wreck.
Another pair of Jarrett sightings came from Mark Leibovich’s new book This Town, a takedown of insular, status-conscious Washington. The New York Times writer reports that Jarrett was resented by several top Obama aides for getting her own full-time Secret Service detail of six agents. She apparently felt threatened by the fact that fellow Obama adviser David Axelrod had been given protection after a gunman who opened fire at people at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was found to be carrying personal data on Axelrod. “While a high-profile White House official — especially an African-American woman, such as Jarrett — could legitimately be considered a more likely target than most, several West Wing officials I spoke to were dubious there had been any special threats against her,” Leibovich writes. “They suspected, rather, that Jarrett asked the president to authorize a detail out of ‘earpiece envy.’ ‘The person Valerie felt threatened by was Axe,’ quipped one top aide.”
Jarrett goes to extraordinary lengths to manage her image in the few articles that do mention her. Liebovich writes that “a top Obama aide forwarded me a set of confidential talking points that were circulated through the West Wing when Becker was reporting her story. The memo, written by deputy press secretary Jamie Smith, was titled ‘The Magic of Valerie.’ It included an unrelenting 33 talking points” that praised her intelligence, empathy, life experience, and work ethic. “My personal favorite ‘Magic of Valerie’ bullet point is the one where we learn that ‘Valerie is someone who other people inside the building know they can trust (need examples.)’”
Truth be told, Valerie Jarrett is indeed trusted by President Obama and Michelle Obama, who have complete confidence in her loyalty and ability to get things done. As for the rest of the White House, the seething tension about her behind-the-scenes power and self-aggrandizement continues to build. Witness the number of leaks that are starting to flow out of the White House challenging the myth of her “magic.”