White House guests include friend and foe

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 26, 2009

The White House has played host to captains of Wall Street, health-care executives and prominent Democratic supporters during President Obama's first seven months in office, according to visitor logs that were released Wednesday.

A list of 1,600 visits to the executive mansion, from Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20 through Sept. 15, illustrates the range of weighty issues -- the teetering economy, health-care reform, climate change -- confronting the new administration.

White House visitors from the corporate world have included General Electric chief executive Jeffrey R. Immelt, who met with Obama's congressional affairs chief; Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman of the equity firm Blackstone Group, who met with Obama and budget director Peter Orszag; and U.S. Bancorp chief executive Richard K. Davis, who led a delegation of 16 bank leaders to see Obama in May. Robert E. Rubin, a former Treasury secretary and Citigroup chairman, also visited top economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers, who succeeded Rubin at Treasury during the Clinton administration.

Another frequent visitor was T. Boone Pickens Jr., the billionaire energy investor and wind-energy champion, who visited three times, including one meeting with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the records show.

The visitor logs also show a handful of major Obama fundraisers, such as philanthropist Alan D. Solomont, who bundled more than $500,000 in donations for Obama's campaign and has since been nominated as U.S. ambassador to Spain.

The records, which are the second installment in a planned monthly release of visitor logs, were billed by the White House as part of the Obama administration's efforts to increase transparency after the Bush administration resisted the release of such records. The disclosures also come after decades of controversy over the presidential access afforded to rich and powerful supporters, from sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton years to visits at the family ranch with George W. Bush.

"Today's release advances the President's historic commitment to increasing government transparency and openness," ethics counsel Norm Eisen wrote in a White House blog entry, calling it one of the administration's "concrete commitments to openness."

The list does not include all White House visitors, however, which number up to 100,000 per month. Instead, the list was compiled based on about 300 public requests for specific names.

The records provide further evidence of the administration's intense focus earlier this year on a health-care reform bill, as top White House aides met with both reform advocates and industry representatives. The latter included Billy Tauzin, head of the drugmakers' lobby; American Hospital Association chief executive Richard Umbdenstock; and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan chief George C. Halvorson.

The records show that an ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) last visited the White House for nine hours on Aug. 12, when his daughter accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf. He died 13 days later after a long struggle with brain cancer. Colin L. Powell, the former Republican secretary of state who supported Obama during the campaign, visited the president in May.

One of the most frequent visitors on the list was U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue, whose organization has complained bitterly of being left out of energy, health-care and financial reform efforts and who is leading opposition to White House plans on those issues. Donohue nonetheless visited the White House nearly a dozen times from February to June, including three encounters with the president, the records show.

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