White House social secretary Desiree Rogers resigns; Julianna Smoot named successor

By Michael D. Shear and Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 27, 2010; 2:00 PM

White House social secretary Desirée Rogers, a friend of President Obama's from Chicago, is leaving her job to return to the private sector, the White House announced Friday.

Rogers's tenure as the top party and events planner for the administration was marred by the Salahi gate-crashing incident, in which a Virginia couple managed to enter the White House grounds during Obama's first state dinner in November.

Although a senior administration official said the incident proved decisive for her tenure, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the decision to leave was her own.

"She's not been asked to leave," Gibbs said. "She's decided it's time to go back to do other things she loved." Asked whether the Salahi incident played a role in her departure, Gibbs insisted: "I don't think it did, no."

In a statement, the president and first lady said: "We are enormously grateful to Desiree Rogers for the terrific job she's done as the White House Social Secretary. When she took this position, we asked Desiree to help make sure that the White House truly is the People's House, and she did that by welcoming scores of everyday Americans through its doors, from wounded warriors to local schoolchildren to NASCAR drivers."The White House moved quickly to name Rogers's successor, as Julianna Smoot was appointed deputy assistant to the president and social secretary Saturday. Smoot was most recently U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk's chief of staff.

"Julianna shares our commitment to creating an inclusive, dynamic and culturally vibrant White House, and Michelle and I are pleased to have her join our team," the president said in a statement.

An administration official noted that Rogers was an especially hard worker who had many successes, including the National Governors Association dinner at the White House on Feb. 21.

Still, the security fiasco at the state dinner for the prime minister of India proved to be an embarrassment, and when she tried to reassert herself, she was quickly shot down, forced into a lower profile.

"Once the state dinner deal went down," said the official, "people who had other political agendas started micromanaging every part of her business."

Aides have said Rogers had hoped the job would give her a broader platform from which to help manage arts policy, something that did not develop given the economic issues that dominated the administration's first year.

Another senior administration official said Friday it should be "no surprise" that she would want to return to the private sector. Her skills were not seen as particularly well suited to the detail-oriented grind of social secretary, and Rogers, who had a high profile in Chicago long before taking the job, seemed to chafe at its limitations.

Rogers will remain in her post during a transition phase until Smoot starts work, Gibbs said. He said he believed the Obama administration's rules forbidding former employees from turning around and immediately lobbying the White House would apply to Rogers as they do everyone else.

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