Yes, President Obama has an image problem, literally. As the now infamous White House photo illustrated, so many men — all but one of whom is white — seemingly dominate his inner circle. But one photograph does not an administration make. I’m not saying the lack of women in his latest appointments isn’t an issue. My concern here is with the women who ARE there and who are staying. To hear the conversation in Washington you’d think there are no women of consequence in Obama’s orbit. The opposite is true.
The single biggest policy achievement of the president’s is health care reform. Former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, the current secretary for health and human services, was there from the very beginning helping to craft the legislation and pushing for its passage. Last week, Sebelius announced she was staying, which means she’ll be in place when the Affordable Care Act fully kicks in next year.
The single biggest concern of the president’s is the safety and security of the American people. Former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, the current secretary of Homeland Security, is at the forefront of keeping this nation safe. There have been some close calls, but so far so good. Yesterday, Napolitano announced she was staying. Her responsibilities also include securing the nation’s borders, which means she will be a major player in the forthcoming immigration reform effort.
Susan Rice took herself out of contention for the brass ring of U.S. foreign policy. But she isn’t going anywhere. Rice will continue in her role as the United States representative to the United Nations, which is a cabinet position. In reaction to her decision to withdraw from consideration for secretary of state, Obama made it clear her star hadn’t stopped rising. “I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come.”
Folks seem to have forgotten that when White House Counsel Bob Bauer left the administration in 2011, Obama elevated Kathryn Ruemmler to the job as the president’s chief lawyer. You name the thorny legal issue (read: every issue) facing the White House and Ruemmler is in the middle of it providing counsel to the president and his administration. Ruemmler is staying on.
I am told that Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, is also staying on.
Despite her title and petite frame (which allowed everything but her leg to be obscured by communications director Dan Pfeiffer in the above photo), perhaps no one in the Obama administration has greater power than senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. She has known the Obamas for more than 20 years. It was she who hired then-Michelle Robinson for a job in Chicago’s City Hall. In a New York Times profile of the Chicago lawyer last September, a former White House official said of Jarrett, “She is the single most influential person in the Obama White House.” A position she’ll maintain in the second term.
So, while I get all this talk of Obama needing his own binders of women, I also see how it completely ignores the powerful women who are already there.
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