White House officials say that the first lady will speak from the perspective of a mother, not as a gun-control booster. And unlike the president, aides said, she will not call on Congress to do anything.
But by speaking out now, Michelle Obama risks being seen as leveraging her widespread popularity to advance her husband’s legislative agenda. That would be an unusual move for any first lady, but particularly so for Obama, who has appeared careful to preserve her broad, nonpartisan appeal.
“The speech is deeply personal,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser and close friend of the Obamas. “She will really speak from the heart as a mom, as a Chicagoan and as somebody who cares intensely about providing young people with the opportunities that they need to achieve their full potential.”
Still, Obama’s visit here will be inseparable from the emotionally charged fight raging 700 miles away in Washington. “It’s not even subtle; it’s obviously connected to the gun legislation,” said Carl Anthony, an author and historian at the National First Ladies’ Library.
Obama will speak at a downtown fundraising luncheon for a new, $50-million public-private initiative to curb youth violence in Chicago’s neighborhoods. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), a former White House chief of staff, will introduce her, and an estimated 800 business executives and civic leaders plan to attend.
“It’s probably one of the biggest tickets in town,” said Jim Reynolds Jr., chief executive of Loop Capital and co-chairman of the fundraising drive.
After her speech, Obama will visit with students and counselors at Harper High, one of Chicago’s most dangerous schools; last year, 29 current or recent Harper students were shot, eight of them fatally.
The first lady’s remarks will be substantive and personal, according to two White House aides who have seen excerpts. She plans to weave her personal narrative of growing up on Chicago’s South Side, building a career, meeting her husband and raising their two daughters in the city with her desire to see more opportunities for young people to follow her path.
Aides said Obama was motivated to take on the gun-violence issue publicly in February when she attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old majorette who was shot and killed at a Chicago park just days after traveling to Washington for President Obama’s second inauguration.
“The first lady, sitting in Hadiya’s funeral and seeing the grief and heartache in the community just a block away from where Hadiya was murdered and the first lady’s home, was devastated, but she was also determined to do something to prevent this from happening again,” Jarrett said. “She was determined to turn her grief into action.”