Managing the Highest-Profile Social Scene

White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers is making the President's house a place where "East meets West" and where business meets social. Video by Akira Hakuta and Whitney Shefte/
By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 27, 2009

She ran a billion-dollar utility company in Chicago and now is the most influential event planner on the planet, a woman empowered to use 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to set the cultural tone for the Obama era.

Desiree Rogers, 49, is the White House's glamorous new social secretary, a title that belies the magnitude of the job. She is responsible for arranging all the high-profile ceremonies and dinners for the first couple, and she has the power to summon the world's top cultural icons on short notice.

No detail escapes her eye. She says she is planning for the first time to ask the public to sign up on the Internet for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll instead of forcing 36,000 people to wait in line and she wants to have a regular online lottery to get ordinary Americans to state dinners. While her responsibilities are different from those she had as a prominent African American businesswoman, she candidly says, "Had I not had that experience, I would not be able to do this job. The jobs I've had have given me a certain amount of maturity to be able to handle all of the input."

The following are excerpts from an interview with Rogers on Wednesday as part of The Washington Post's "Voices of Power" online video series. Watch the full interview and read the transcript.

-- Asked if she has found Washington to be a place where a lot of business gets done after hours.

Rogers: Just sitting with the governors, hearing them talk, hearing them relax a bit, seeing them dance, seeing them walk through the house and meet each other. . . . I really feel that we had great success with that group, and I had heard that they were a more, you know, difficult group."

-- Commenting on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s remarks that the United States is still a segregated society and the opportunity she has been afforded to help change that.

Rogers: I come from the Deep South. I was educated in the Northeast, spent 20 years in the Midwest. I think you have to work at it, and what I would say is my friends . . . are all different races, all different age groups, but I work at that. . . . I mean, I sat between two white males on Sunday night. I think what they would say is, not to pat myself on the back, but, "She was delightful."

-- Asked how she will help Michelle Obama shape and define her role as first lady.

Rogers: Michelle is shaping her role just fine. . . . I think we have someone that is very sure of who she is and is thinking . . . very carefully . . . what role and what impact she wants to have. . . . She's very self-assured and very confident in the role that she's taking.

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