Diversity and the Obama White House


Vice President Dick Cheney, right, speaks to President Bush by phone inside the operations center at The White House as staff members look on, Sept. 11, 2001. (David Bohrer/AP)
Al Kamen
Columnist January 14, 2013

Sometimes photos tell the story, sometimes not. But our colleague Karen Tumulty noted a contrast in these two images that might raise eyebrows.

One is a picture on Sept. 11, 2001, of Vice President Dick Cheney on the phone in the White House Situation Room — perhaps talking with President George W. Bush — with several top aides standing by, including three women: national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, senior Bush adviser Karen Hughes and senior Cheney adviser Mary Matalin. There are also two African Americans in the small group.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Then there’s the iconic photo of Obama in the Situation Room on the night SEAL Team 6 dispatched Osama bin Laden. There’s one woman at the table, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and another woman in the doorway, Audrey Tomason, director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council. There’s only one African American.

Waiting and seeing

Speaking of diversity, President Obama may have been a bit defensive at his news conference Monday when he was asked about his first Cabinet picks.

His first term had “as diverse, if not more diverse, a White House and a Cabinet than any in history,” he said, adding that he “would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they’ve seen all my appointments . . . before they rush to judgment.”

The White House confirmed Monday that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was staying on in her job. (Ah, we’ve been writing that for some time.)

On the other hand, another very senior woman, Nancy-Ann DeParle, White House deputy chief of staff and a major player in Obama’s health-care program, is leaving next week to join the Brookings Institution as a guest scholar in economic studies and will also lecture at Harvard Law School.

Another official said to be leaving is Mike Strautmanis, now counselor to White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and before that deputy chief of staff in Obama’s Senate office. He’s probably headed to the private sector.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department said Monday that Obama asked Secretary Tom Vilsack to stay in his post and the former Iowan accepted. (This long-expected announcement may also mean his wife, Christie Vilsack, who lost a bid in Iowa for a House seat, has landed an administration job here.)

Miles to go

John Kerry , assuming he becomes secretary of state, will have a difficult, if not impossible, task to best his immediate predecessors’ travel feats.

After all, in terms of miles traveled, Condoleezza Rice set a high bar with a record 1,059,247 miles logged, edging out the current secretary, Hillary Clinton, by about 100,000 miles. And Clinton set a formidable mark of visiting 112 countries during her tenure.

Kerry may decide first to visit those few countries Clinton didn’t get to or perhaps didn’t get to often.

She did leave Kerry a few unvisited places, such as war-torn Mali and Sudan, but those aren’t places one goes to frequently.

She also left him some fine spots.

First, he he can visit Austria. Clinton practically encircled Vienna (though she didn’t go to Slovenia and Slovakia), but, according to the State Department’s list, she never stopped for the Sacher torte, the famous chocolate cake at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna.

On that trip or another, Kerry can also stop in unvisited Luxembourg, Romania and Cyprus.

He could find some reason to go to Italy, which it appears Clinton visited only once in four years, and stop in Rome to see Ambassador David Thorne, a close pal and the twin brother of Kerry’s first wife.

While in Rome he could go to the Vatican, which it appears Clinton skipped, making her only the second holder of the job (Warren Christopher was the other) since Richard Nixon’s first secretary of state, William Rogers, to bypass the Holy See.

Kerry also might want to check in with the Israelis. Clinton visited, but only five times in all, the fewest visits since Rogers. (When George Shultz was secretary of state, he practically lived there during a lengthy peace effort.)

Loving Labor lost

The prospect of post-Cabinet life is looking pretty sweet for Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. We spotted her last week, just a day after she announced her resignation, doing things we can only imagine were tough to manage in the days when her schedule was packed with wall-to-wall meetings.

A woman we’d swear was Solis was standing outside her Capitol Hill rowhouse wearing workout gear (Hitting the gym? On a weeknight? Now, that’s a luxury!) and chatting with two gal pals, also in athletic clothes . The crew appeared to be having a good time while checking out the exterior of the home and contemplating Solis’s putting it on the market. (Solis’s office thought we must have been mistaken, but we’d know our neighbor when we saw her.)

Solis told Labor Department employees last week in a letter that she planned to “return to the people and places” she loves, which most likely means she’s heading back to her native California, where many expect her to run for the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Sounds as if she had better enjoy that downtime while she can.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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