This week, one prominent Democratic strategist, James Carville, said Obama should “panic” and fire much of his staff, and a Republican victory in a special House election in a heavily Democratic district in New York raised concerns among Democrats about Obama’s ability to win strong support from core party voters in next year’s reelection campaign.
Moreover, some Democrats are voicing frustration with a West Wing strategy they say allowed House Republicans to outmaneuver the president during the summer’s debt-ceiling talks.
The challenges have mounted as Obama and his advisers try to go on the offensive and boost the president’s low approval ratings, which are the worst of his tenure.
But as copies of the book began circulating around town Friday, Obama’s aides and allies were forced to defend his management style against the portrayal conveyed by Suskind, who secured White House cooperation for much of his work. Suskind interviewed many top officials and was granted a White House interview with Obama.
White House officials were still reviewing the book late Friday. Communications director Dan Pfeiffer said that such books “tend to take the normal day-to-day activities of governing and infuse them with drama, palace intrigue and salacious details.”
“The president made very tough decisions in the most difficult of circumstances, and his team executed those decisions faithfully and tirelessly,” he said.
Some of the defense came from former senior officials who were quoted making some of the book’s most provocative allegations.
Anita Dunn, a former communications director, is quoted as saying that “looking back, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace. . . . Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women.”
Dunn said Friday that she told Suskind “point-blank” that the White House “was not a hostile environment.”
Christina Romer, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, is quoted as saying, after being excluded by top economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers at a meeting, “I felt like a piece of meat.”
On Friday, Romer said, “I can’t imagine that I ever said this.”
The book says Romer shared her thoughts with Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, then a candidate to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Why is it always the women?” Romer asked. “Why are we the only ones with the balls around here?”
“I was told before I went to Washington that there has always been a lot of testosterone in the West Wing,” Romer said Friday. “What was different in the Obama administration is that there were so many women in important positions and, when problems arose, the president worked hard to fix them. I felt respected, included and useful to the team.”