washingtonpost.com
A Conversation with Valerie Jarrett
The Post's Lois Romano Interviews Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement

Sunday, May 31, 2009 11:00 PM

CHAPTER 1

LOIS ROMANO: Welcome, Valerie Jarrett

VALERIE JARRETT: Thank you.

ROMANO: Senior Advisor to President Obama. Thanks for joining us today.

JARRETT: Oh, my pleasure.

ROMANO: Your portfolio includes Public Engagement, Women and Girls, and Intergovernmental Affairs, not to mention that you are probably the closest friend of Michelle and Barack Obama on staff here right now.

So let's start with your relationship with the Obamas and particularly your relationship with the President. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

JARRETT: Sure. I met him about 18 years ago when he actually right before he and Michelle were married, and I was recruiting Michelle to come and work in Mayor Daley's office, and the three of us had a chance to get together and talk, and the rest is history.

ROMANO: Well, people have said that you had taken them under your wing at that time. In fact, the word "maternal" has been used. Yeah.

JARRETT: Well, that makes me feel a little old. So let's not use that word.

ROMANO: Oh.

JARRETT: "Sisterly." How about that? [Laughter.]

ROMANO: Sisterly, because you're only a couple years older than them.

JARRETT: Exactly right. Let's stick to that story too. [Laughter.]

ROMANO: All right. Sisterly. All right.

So are you like a big sister, do you think?

JARRETT: Perhaps, perhaps.

ROMANO: Yeah. What does that mean when they say you took them under your wing?

JARRETT: Well, I think the fact that I recruited Michelle, and I had worked in a law firm and had become somewhat disengaged from the private practice of law, and so Michelle and I had kind of a common bond because she too had a calling for public service, and so we started with that. And then over the years, you know, I was there when they were married and the birth of their children and kind of the ups and downs of the natural marriage of a young couple, and we've just stayed kind of a constant in each other's lives, and I think that we have relied on each other at different points in our life. And so there's nothing like friendships that have withstood the test of time.

ROMANO: History?

JARRETT: Yes, we have history together.

ROMANO: Here's what Michelle said about you at one point. "People who deal with her can trust that, number one, she has access and also that she has knowledge." Is that a compliment or a job description?

JARRETT: Well, I think it's a compliment. It's descriptive. The fact that I have access, I think it means that we're friends, and so we know each other pretty well, and I think that they can count on me to be candid and honest with them, and I certainly can count on them to do the same for me. So, to the degree people are looking for a barometer after all these years of knowing the two of them, hopefully I can give them that.

ROMANO: You've made a transition from, you know, mentor, friend, advisor, now

JARRETT: Now he's my boss. [Laughter.]

ROMANO: Now he's your boss.

JARRETT: Exactly.

ROMANO: Has that been a hard transition?

JARRETT: Oh, no. No. Not at all. I mean, my goodness. I have respected him immensely since the first day I met him. That respect has grown over the years, and I certainly have always thought that there was something pretty extraordinary about his leadership skills and the gifts he has and how hard he works and how much he believes in this country and improving our country, and so it's really been a privilege to get to know him over the years and to have a chance to work with him in a variety of different contexts, and there is really no greater honor, I think, than to be called upon by the President of the United States to work here in the White House.

So it's been a wonderful transition, and I just pinch myself every day that I actually work here.

ROMANO: Did the campaign and your friendship with them adequately prepare you for what you were going to end up doing here?

JARRETT: Oh, I don't think you can ever actually be prepared for the White House, and both the surprise in terms of the pleasant surprises of working in this atmosphere and the collegiality among our team and then we also came into incredible challenges, two wars, an economic global meltdown, health care crisis and energy crisis, a crisis in the public education arena. So there's a lot on our plate, and I think I probably couldn't have adequately been prepared for how hard we were going to have to work but also how just immensely satisfying it is to see how much progress we've made over a relatively short period of time.

ROMANO: How do you see your unique value to the President? You know, is it in terms of the relationship and how long you've known him? Is there something that you bring a little added because of your history?

JARRETT: Well, you'd have to ask him that question. That's hard for me to say.

ROMANO: Well, do you find that you're kind of a go-to person, a lot about people trying to take a temperature or trying to figure out what's going on?

JARRETT: Well, I think that happens because of the length of our history. But I also think that he's assembled just a terrific team of people, many who he's known for a long time, some of who he's just met, and I think part of his leadership skill is his ability to bring this diverse group of people together and really to be about a common mission of trying to really improve our country. And so no matter how far apart we all came, we're here with this central purpose, and he's a terrific leader in keeping that even keeled temperament where we all stay focused on the American people.

ROMANO: What does it mean when people describe you as the other side of his brain?

JARRETT: I don't know. I always wondered what that meant. What do you think it meant? [Laughter.]

ROMANO: I have no idea.

JARRETT: I have no idea either.

ROMANO: Do you have complementing personalities, or ....temperaments?

JARRETT: I think we both do have similar temperaments.... So that, my highs are not very high, my lows are not very low, kind of steady and even keel, and he's certainly that way.

ROMANO: As one of his senior advisors, how do you keep connected, keep up with everything that you know he's hearing and know when to weigh in and when to pull back and

JARRETT: You know, that's a very good question because his time is so precious, and I think that all of his senior advisors spend a lot of time trying to be really prepared, so that when we go in to present to him, we realize that this is somebody with thousands of issues on his plate and to really help prioritize, so that we're not wasting his time. And so I have a terrific team that works here with me, and they do a lot of research, and they really try to fully think through issues, so that we go to him with kind of the most salient facts and with a recommendation.

ROMANO: He's described himself as a night owl. Is that a time when you can find you can catch up with him or talk to him late at night?

JARRETT: Not me. I am not a night owl. I am the opposite. I am an early owl. I get up at the crack of dawn every morning and so I tend to go to bed early. So I'm not the late night conversation person. If he calls me late at night, he's waking me up.

ROMANO: What do you think has been the hardest part of the transition for the Obamas?

JARRETT: Well, you know, Chicago's home and I think that's been the case for so many of us who have come from all over the country and kind of uprooted ourselves with this leap of faith and the opportunity to serve the country, but we've all left behind some roots, and I think for them, the girls were really happy in their school, and they had close friends who lived in the neighborhood, and so to leave all of that, I think has been a challenge.

On the other hand, Washington has been extraordinarily welcoming to the Obamas. I think that there is so much enthusiasm throughout the campaign that really came to this crescendo with his inauguration on that very cold but beautiful morning in January, and I think that a lot of their friends have come to visit, and that makes it a little easier. And so they've been able to keep a little bit of Chicago right around here on a regular basis, but there's no place like home.

ROMANO: They were worried initially about having a sense of isolation. I mean, do you think that they're adjusting to that or they're trying to combat it or...

JARRETT: Well, it's a challenge. I think the President enjoys being spontaneous. He would probably say that, you know, walking through a bookstore and meeting that random stranger who you pick up a conversation with about something that you hadn't really thought about before is part of the richness of life, and he doesn't have the opportunity to do that as much anymore, and, certainly, Michelle doesn't either.

And I think they're very grounded. I always say they're down to earth, and they enjoy being out and hearing about all kinds of interesting new ideas. And the life is a lot more structured here in the White House, and the access is a lot more limited, but I think that they're also both whetted to traveling around the country, if not the world, and trying to get this regular interaction with new people.

And part of what my Office of Public Engagement does is that we invite people into the White House, and so many people who have come over the course of the last several months have never been here before. And the Obamas' philosophy is that we really shouldn't look at the White House as this isolated home that belongs just to the First Family; it should belong to the American people, and they have done all kinds of interesting things to make it accessible and open and inviting.

And they both try very hard to put people at ease when they come here because it is a little intimidating when you first come in here, particularly if you've never been before, and even if you come here every day, it can be a little intimidating. And so I think that their goal is to make it feel so open and so warm. And they encourage the staff here at the White House to bring their families here, and, you know, many

ROMANO: That's nice.

JARRETT: people here work unbelievable hours, and a lot of the folks here have small children, and the Obamas have both said, "Look, bring your kids. They have a new swing set out on the lawn. Let the kids come and play," and so I think they've done a lot of things to try to make the house feel warm and friendly, both to visitors as well as to those of us who work here.

ROMANO: Are they going to be able to take a summer vacation?

JARRETT: Hope so. [Laughter.] Hope so.

ROMANO: Yeah? Do they have one planned?

JARRETT: You know, we'll see. We'll see....As you know, there's a lot going on. The President has a lot on his plate, and we'll just see how the summer unfolds.

CHAPTER 2

ROMANO: Let's shift to Sonia Sotomayor.

JARRETT: Yes. It's a terrific choice, don't you think?

ROMANO: Well, I'm not allowed to have an opinion.

JARRETT: Oh, all right. Well, I'll say yes, I think terrific choice.

ROMANO: There you go. There you go.

JARRETT: What an extraordinary gifted and talented woman with a career that's just second to none.

ROMANO: When the President was looking for a candidate, what did he tell you he wanted?

JARRETT: Well, I think the first and most important criteria is he wanted somebody who would serve well on the Supreme Court, someone who had respect for the Constitution, who understood the role of a Supreme Court Justice, who had a wide range of experiences that would prepare the person for the job, and I think that if you look at her bio, it only takes a moment to realize just how extraordinary she is.

Here she finished, you know, second in her class at Princeton, one of the universities that's the finest in the nation. She was on the Yale Law Journal while she was in law school, another extraordinary institution. And then she's had this extraordinarily rich and deep career, first as a prosecutor, where you see firsthand the kind of violent crimes that were happening on the streets of Manhattan, and she was the champion for the people there; and then to the private sector, where she had this broad experience in corporate and international law, taking her all over the world and seeing all kinds of challenging issues, and then appointed first by a Republican President, George H.W. Bush, and then again promoted by Bill Clinton, President Bill Clinton, to the Court of Appeals.

And so she's also had both trial court experience, which is, you know, looking at the facts of individual cases, which is really important, and then appellate experience, and she'll be really the first judge in about a hundred years who's had the kind of depth of judicial experience joining the bench.

So you put it all together, and then you add to this, this extraordinary American story of growing up so poor in South Bronx and having her father who died at such a young age and seeing her mother work two jobs to help both she and her

ROMANO: There's a compelling narrative.

JARRETT: brother go to school, and her brother is now this successful physician, and it really, it's the American dream.

And so I think not only does it give you goose bumps and think only in this country could something so spectacular happen, but I also think that it prepares her to provide a unique perspective on the court. And if you think about the Supreme Court, it's really nine people, and so the more diverse that group is, the more they push each other to think about perspectives that maybe they don't all share in common, the better decisions they'll make on behalf of the American people.

So I think she is absolutely the perfect choice.

ROMANO: When did you first meet her?

JARRETT: I actually didn't meet her until the morning of her appointment.....But we certainly all read many, many documents.....There was a lot of documentation....We have great, young, terrific lawyers who work in the White House Counsel's Office who read every opinion she's ever written, every paper she's ever written, looked at all of her lectures and looked at her whole career, and they prepared a synopsis of that for us. And so I read it very carefully and with just extraordinary admiration.

ROMANO: Did the President seek your advice?

JARRETT: He sought my advice. He sought a lot of people's advice. I think he mentioned in his remarks the other day that he spoke with all the members of the Judiciary Committee, both Republicans and Democrats. He is a constitutional scholar himself, you know, he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. He has just a wide range of folks with whom he could consult, but I think in the end, the decision was his and his alone, and he sure made a good one.

ROMANO: Was it all legal, or was it part legal, part personal? Was it a whole package?

JARRETT: I think she's a whole package.

I think, you know, we're all kind of packages, and you can't separate your professional accomplishments from your life story because that's all a part of who we are, and I think when you put it together, he thought that she was just the perfect pick at this moment in time.

ROMANO: There's a couple of things that she has said unscripted that the opponents are latching onto, and I wanted to ask you about them.

One is she said: I would hope that a wise Latina woman with richness of experience would more often reach than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.

JARRETT: Well, I think what she meant was what I was referring to a few minutes ago, that her unique experience is having grown up so poor in this family from the South Bronx presents a diversity of opinion. And so, you know, on the Supreme Court, it's not one judge how makes an opinion. It's nine judges, and so I think what she was saying was when you take her experience and you couple it with the many white men that are on the court and you also have another woman, you put it all together, you get this incredible breath of perspective. And when you think about the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, it's really making decisions that affect all of the American people, and so don't you want to make sure that all of the American people are represented? And I think that's what she meant.

ROMANO: Well, she wasn't talking about the Supreme Court.

JARRETT: Well, she was talking about her perspective.

Well, you know what, we could we could haggle over each individual word, but I think understanding what she meant and the spirit of her comment was one about diversity of perspective and enrichment of comment.

And, you know, goodness knows, I wouldn't want every single word I say micromanaged. And I think what the opponents are doing, they're trying to find that one little kernel they find that they can criticize, but if that's the best that they can come up with compared to 17 years on the bench and this incredible track record--and remember she's going to be on the Supreme Court. And if you look at her record on the court, if you look at what her peers on the court have said about her, if you look at the way her law clerks worship her, the reputation she has as a jurist, I don't think anybody should question her commitment and what kind of a judge she'll be.

ROMANO: And then the second thing that she said was the Court of Appeals is where policy is made. Now, as a lawyer, do you buy into that?

JARRETT: Well, what she meant, if you look at the full context, she was addressing prospective clerks, and what they were doing is comparing the district court, and what the district court does is it looks at the facts of the case. You come in, and you present your facts, and the judge tries to figure out, based on the facts, what's right.

What the appellate court does is it looks only at the law, and it looks only at the law if there's really new law to be litigated, because if you're just looking at the facts, you just rely on the district court. You don't present facts to the appellate court.

So she was trying to make the case for why it's attractive to be on the appellate court because you're really looking at the law. And so she wasn't trying to be provocative or say that you're making new law. You're interpreting the existing law.

ROMANO: If the President has the ability to name some other justices down the road, what do you think he would like the court to look like? I mean, in a perfect world, if he got to replace two or three more, what do you think he would like it to

JARRETT: Well, let's just get his first one confirmed first.

And, you know, I think it will depend. It will depend, and I think he'll be depending upon when that happens, he'll look at the makeup of the court at that point

But I think no matter when that opportunity comes, the first thing he's looking for are the qualifications of the person, someone who understands the Constitution, respects the Constitution, understands the role of a Supreme Court Justice, isn't trying to make new law out of something that isn't embedded in the Constitution, and I think he's also looking for the whole person, somebody who presents a little diversity of perspective.

And, you know, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, but my guess is, is that the primary qualifications remain the same, regardless of when that time comes.

CHAPTER 3

ROMANO: Let's talk about the position you're in right now.

JARRETT: Yes.

ROMANO: It used to be called the Office of Public Liaison.

JARRETT: Yes.

ROMANO: You have all changed the title to the Office of Public Engagement. Has the mission changed also?

JARRETT: Well, it has. It has. So I would take you back and remind you of this grassroots campaign that President Obama led during both the primary and the general election, and I think that part of the reason why he's elected today is that the American people were tired of feeling isolated from their government. They didn't even feel like it was their government. They felt that it was dominated by the special interest groups, and that Washington had become detached from the American people.

And so part of why we changed the name to the Office of Public Engagement is that the President wants a forum within the White House where everyday Americans can feel they can come, they can engage on the issues, whether they're issues from health care to energy, to the Supreme Court to wide variety of issues that come before the White House, and that there was a point of entry, a point of access for that opportunity for engagement.

So it is a collaborative, bilateral process that we try to have here within this office, and that was really the hallmark of his campaign, and it's something that he wanted to continue in the White House. He never wants to lose track of what's important to the American people.

Every single day, he says to us, if he thinks that we are getting distracted by something, "Wait a minute, you guys. Let's remember why we're here. We're here to focus on the American people," and so my Office of Public Engagement is there for the American people, so that they can engage with this White House and feel that it is their house too.

ROMANO: Well, so how do you choose? Everybody wants to have a voice, and everybody wants to see the President and get time with you. How do you decide, you know, what voices get heard, and how do you find these voices?

JARRETT: Well, that's where my terrific team comes in handy, and I have so many folks here who worked on behalf of the campaign, as well as people who weren't a part of the campaign who we recruited, who have relationships throughout the country, and they pride themselves on, every day, bringing in new people and new organizations and new perspectives. And we try to prioritize, and it depends upon you know, a lot of it depends on the President's agenda.

He's made it very clear that the economy is front and center. Jobs are very important, and so we've brought in, for example, a wide variety of business leaders, from manufacturing to the airline industry to the hospitality industry to high tech to green jobs, all coming in and talking to their President about what are the growth opportunities of the future, so that we can make sure that our country jumps back, and when we get our footing again, that we're really building an economy that's going to be sustainable for the long term.

He's often spoken about this, kind of the bubble that we had. First, there was the tech bubble. Then there was this other bubble that was based on really false promises that weren't sustainable, and so he and we are working hard to educate ourselves about what are the growth opportunities for the future. So that's one perspective.

And so, if the economy is front and center, we know that health care is also very important to the President, and so we bring in a variety of people who can add perspectives to our health care package that will be going before Congress, and he began by having a town hall meeting right here in the White House, Members of Congress, people from the pharmaceutical industry, from the hospital industry, from the nursing associations, physicians, patients, everybody, all the stakeholders who would be involved in health care reform, and he brought them here to the White House.

Then he went and he had governors, a bipartisan group of governors across the country have health care forums out around the country, so that we could bring people together to focus onI think he said it best. He said: the only rules are that the status quo is not acceptable. We have to do something. Other than that, I want to engage you in that process.

JARRETT: The same process for energy. We've got to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. So we bring in groups that are concerned about energy, and we highlight success stories of companies that are creating green jobs, which really are the jobs of the future.

We brought in all the car CEOs a few weeks ago to talk about having national standards on fuel efficiency for cars, and so, depending upon the issues which are priority, high priority of the President, that's what really drives our Office of Public Engagement, to make sure that each of those key policy issues, the policies are being shaped by an engagement with the American people.

ROMANO: On the the subject of engagement with business

JARRETT: Yes.

ROMANO: the administration is about to own 70 percent of GM, and your opponents, the Republicans, are saying 'how is this not socialism?'

JARRETT: Well, the fact of the matter is GM, the success of GM is really important to our nation's economy. Many people's jobs depend on the automotive industry; same thing with Chrysler. If the President hadn't stepped in and helped Chrysler, my goodness, think of what that would have done to large segments of our economy. So there are many people today who have their jobs because of the President's effort.

Same thing is going to be the case to the degree we're able to help GM. Same thing was the case when the President stepped in for the first time ever and passed a recovery package, nearly $800 billion, to help jumpstart our economy and provide millions of jobs to the American people.

So, what I would say to our opponents is keep in mind that every decision that the President is making is based, first and foremost, on what's in the best interest of the American people, and he doesn't make those decisions in isolation. He makes them after doing his homework, having heard a wide variety of perspectives.

He said time and time again to the Republicans, "Give me your best ideas. I'm completely open to ideas that are different from my own," and he has said in many a speech and in many a private conversation, "I want to listen to everybody, and I want to listen most carefully to those with whom I disagree, because I might learn something." I think that's a remarkable quality in a President, someone with a mind that is so intellectually curious that it can be open to such a wide perspective of ideas.

ROMANO: There's a new book out that suggests that the President has been frustrated by Vice President Biden's lack of discipline and, in fact, defended you over a comment that he thought dissed you that the Vice President made.

JARRETT: He didn't dis me at all, quite the opposite, and if you talk to Richard Wolfe, he would corroborate my perspective.

What the Vice President did was give me a supreme compliment. He said he thought I would make a wonderful U.S. Senator. It's just that simple, and so, for anybody who said that he dissed me, not at all. I remember the moment, and I was supremely complimented by it.

ROMANO: So did the President say to him "it's not funny," as has been reported?

JARRETT: I don't recall him saying that at all.

What I remember was basking at the thought that the Vice President thought I would make a wonderful Senator. So it was much ado about nothing at all. The Vice President has been so incredibly supportive of me since the first time I met him, and I took it as a compliment, and he meant it as one.

CHAPTER 4

ROMANO: You are the most senior woman in a historic administration--first African American President--an administration many people didn't think would come this soon, and I read where you had said that because of your international childhood, you were not burdened by the personal history of prejudice, which is why you thought he could win. And you might have been the only African American at the time who thought that.

JARRETT: Oh, I had a few friends who thought so too.

ROMANO: You had a few friends? How did you convince the community that he was viable? I mean, I would hear that. We would all hear that, "We like him, but we don't think he could win."

JARRETT: Well, he did that. He did that rolling up his sleeves and going to Iowa and working really hard.

I mean, I have such a respect for the caucus process in Iowa because the folks in Iowa really do pay attention, and you can do it in a living room with 14 people. You can do it in a field and in somebody's back yard. All over Iowa, he had the opportunity to really open himself up.

And he used to say when we were in Iowa, "I'm going to lift up the hood and let people kick the tires and really get to know who I am." And I think over the course of a very long campaign, one of the advantages of the length of the campaign, is that beginning in Iowa and then on from there, the American people really had a chance to get to know, you know, who is this Barack Obama, what does his leadership stand for, what you know, how does he respond under pressure, how does he respond under the grueling demands of a campaign.

And it's good practice because I think, you know, this is probably the toughest job in the world, and you want to know is this somebody who you have a good sense of. And I think in the course of the campaign, what the President did is he was able to convince the American people that at this moment in our nation's history, he was a person with all of the qualities from intellect to judgment to temperament to openness to reform and to having this deep-seated belief that the American government could change and thereby the people could change.

You wrap that all together, and I think he's the one that convinced people that he could win, and he always has said this throughout the time I've known him, you know, "You can't let fear paralyze you, and you can't let fear of failure keep you from doing something if you really believe it's the right thing to do."

And I think that he believed that he had a vision for America, and that if he could be willing to work really hard to get out there and let people understand his vision and the one thing you can say about Barack Obama is he's consistent. He was saying the same things when he began the campaign as he said yesterday, and that that consistency is what the American people were so hungry for.

He did the hard work.

ROMANO: Let me ask you just a few questions about your other good friend, the First Lady. How does she approach her job differently from her predecessors?

JARRETT: Well, you know, people often say, you know, how do you compare Michelle, what other First Lady is she like, and I think that our country has had extraordinary First Ladies. And each one of them has left an indelible, unique mark on our country, and I think that Michelle will carve her own path as well.

And so I don't really look back to other First Ladies. I really look forward.....I think part of it comes from having grown up in a modest family on the South Side of Chicago where she watched her father sacrifice so much with a disability, and he got up and he went to work every day, and he instilled in Michelle and her brother this work ethic, sense of personal responsibility, and, I think most importantly, a commitment to give back and professionally and personally to the community that had been so good to them. And so I think she brings all of that deep empathy here.

And she was mentioning to me the other day...one thing that she does is that she makes people feel comfortable. And I spoke earlier about how the White House can be intimidating, and we were joking about it, and she said I'm a toucher, I'm a hugger, and she said, you know, I see the look on people's faces when they come in the White House, and the first thing I do is I grab them, and I hold them close, and I say, "It's going to be okay." And she said she wants them to be able to relax and enjoy the experience.

And we had a hundred high school girls here a couple of months ago, and it was one of the most remarkable days, I think, of our time here and really of my life, to see these young girls, juniors and seniors in high school, come to the White House, sit at the table with all these extraordinary women of excellence from around the country, and experience being here and knowing that they were selected by their principal or their guidance counselor as being gifted women with great potential. But, if you could have seen them when they first walked in, some of the girls were crying down in the lobby. They were so scared, and Michelle was able to almost instantly just put them at ease and saying, "Relax," and to encourage these young women to believe in themselves.

She's an incredible role model, and she's very willing to share her personal story and kind of her ups and downs, because it makes people feel, "You know what, she's just like me," and then they go, "Oh, my goodness, she's just like me, and she's the First Lady. Well, there's no limit to what I could do."

So I think she'll be a role model. I think she'll take on issues. As you know, she's very involved in highlighting the challenges and helping military families deal with the challenge of having a loved one overseas and particularly in this tough economic time. She's very interested in nutrition. She's very interested in public service. Maybe you've seen her garden that she has growing here.

And she began her career right after she left city government, running Public Allies, part of AmeriCorps, devoting young people to committing a portion of their life to public service, and so I think her path can go in a lot of different directions. Those are the ones that she's carved out so far, but I think what she really does, to make people feel that the sky is the limit, and similar to the President, don't be afraid of anything; try, reach for the stars. Even if you fall a little bit short, that's better than not believing in yourself, and so that's part of the magic of Michelle Obama.

ROMANO: She seems to have had a vision coming in. I mean, I've seen a lot of First Ladies thrash around a little bit trying to find their place, and she seems to have hit the ground running, and, you know, her thinking seems to be organized about what she wants to accomplish.

JARRETT: Well, Michelle is one of the most disciplined, organized people that I know. She's the kind of person you'll remember from high school where the first day of class, she starts studying for the final. That's Michelle. [Laughter.]

And so it should be no surprise to anybody that she would hit the ground running, but part of how she hit the ground was really just being herself. I mean, if you saw her with those girls from the high school--from the girls in high school here in our country to the girls in high school in England, the same person, the same warmth and affection and connectivity. I mean, they both have that gift of, no matter where you come from, making you feel that, you know, you're right at home.

ROMANO: She is the youngest First Lady, I think, in 60 years since Jackie Kennedy. What impact will that have on the institution?

JARRETT: Well, you know, there's nothing like having children in the White House. EDIT

JARRETT: You know, we can be in a very serious meeting in the Oval Office, and out of nowhere, here comes Michelle with Malia and Sasha right behind, and you could be talking about the most serious thing in the world, and they have the ability to break the tension and come in and provide joy and laughter and youth and spirit and energy, and I think all of that's good for our country.

I mean, people want to see particularly in times of adversity, they want to see that we can have some joy in our life and notwithstanding the struggles that we're all going through, that we can appreciate family, we can appreciate the smile of a girl or two girls in their case, and what family should be all about.

I think for the President, part of the extraordinary part of being the President is being able to actually work where his family and his girls are right upstairs, and to go over there in the course of the day and have them come to the Oval Office, that just.....I think the stability of that is a very good signal to the country, and it lifts the spirits. That's maybe the best way I would say it.

ROMANO: Has your way of communicating with them changed at all? I mean, can you still pick up a phone if you have something to say, or have you had to measure that a little?

JARRETT: No. I mean, but one thing I am sensitive to is the President's time.

JARRETT: As I said early on, his time is very precious, and so, you know, I am disciplined in how much of his time I take up when I am in his role as Senior Advisor. If I'm in his role as friend, well, then I'll talk his ear off. [Laughter.]

ROMANO: Now, I assume you have the email address?

JARRETT: I do have the email address.

ROMANO: Okay. So what's the protocol on talking to or getting in touch with the President on the BlackBerry? Do you have to wait 'til he writes you first?

JARRETT: Oh, no. It's just like you would talk to anybody on your BlackBerry.

But, again, you know, I'm not going to just write him idly on his BlackBerry. If I need to talk to him or I need his time and attention, I try to be judicious. That's what he should expect as President.

ROMANO: All right. Well, thank you very much.

JARRETT: You're welcome. It's a pleasure. Thank you for coming in.

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