By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 2009
The tightly run, always-on-message East Wing has had its first staff upheaval four months into the Obama administration: First lady Michelle Obama has replaced chief of staff Jackie Norris with White House lawyer Susan Sher.
The White House made the announcement late yesterday afternoon in a news release and offered no explanation for the change. In a statement, Obama described both women as her friends. But in this instance, Sher, a longtime friend from Chicago, trumped Norris, the relatively new one from Iowa.
Obama met Norris, who was a high school government and history teacher, during the early days of the Iowa caucuses. Norris, mother of three young boys, was a senior adviser and scheduler for Obama's many Iowa visits. The two became acquainted as they traveled the state together discussing politics, fitness and their children.
In yesterday's announcement, Obama noted that Norris had "built a strong organization in the East Wing and made tremendous progress on issues that are important to me and the President, particularly in the area of national service."
Indeed, over the past few months, the first lady has defined herself as an advocate for community activism and education. She has also spent a significant amount of time championing the less-advantaged in Washington, particularly its young people. She did this most recently in a commencement address this week to the Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School.
Norris has been given a new position, as senior adviser to the Corporation for National and Community Service, which provides grants to service organizations and promotes volunteerism. It also oversees programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Sher will step into her new job having worked in both the East and West wings on legal issues and health care reform. She has known the first lady for more than a decade, as their career paths have been intertwined. Sher was a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center; Obama worked there, too. Sher also served as corporation counsel for then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, for whom Obama and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett both worked.
In her statement, Obama described Sher as a "trusted advisor, longtime mentor and friend" and predicted that her "transition to chief of staff will be seamless."
DeNeen L. Brown contributed to this article