The Washington Post

Obama’s top speechwriter has his eyes on the White House exit signs


As Team Obama prepares for the president’s second inaugural address, there’s word that White House chief speechwriter Jon Favreau may leave the administration soon thereafter.

We hear he’s mulling various options but hasn’t made a decision about his second-term plans.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Favreau was only 27, the youngest chief speechwriter ever, four years ago when he helped craft and edit President Obama’s first inaugural address. And he’s also credited with penning some of Obama’s best stuff during the 2008 campaign.

Favreau became something of a celebrity in town for a while in the new administration, dating actress Rashida Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton.

But the gifted wordsmith, while still very much on the scene — there was that shirtless incident in a Georgetown bar in 2010 and then that long profile in GQ in June 2011 — has been less the celeb of late.

Unclear what the departure date will be, but most likely after the inaugural or after the State of the Union in February.

Taming the gotcha game?

Thinking of snagging a top position in the Obama administration, one that needs Senate confirmation? Have you seen “The Wizard of Oz” lately?

But the reality is more “Night of the Living Dead” than yellow brick road. As Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who knows the problems first-hand — he was confirmed in 1991 as secretary of education — puts it: The nomination process “has degenerated into a time-consuming, unfair ordeal that creates an ‘innocent until nominated’ syndrome.” That’s why people call it a “gotcha game.”

But help is on the way. A high-powered bipartisan group of current and former experts in politics, technology and personnel — led by Lisa Brown , a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget, and including Obama, Bush II and Clinton administration personnel chiefs — has come up with solid recommendations to streamline the paperwork blizzard that confounds hapless job-seekers.

Sure, it’s another “working group,” but this one was authorized by a recently enacted federal law. So this time may be different. Really.

The group — which includes FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce , Office of Government Ethics deputy general counsel Walter M. Shaub Jr. and former senators George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) — has been working closely with the 17 (that’s seventeen) Senate committees that confirm nominees, making sure there’s Senate buy-in.

The team’s recent report focuses on trimming and improving the forms applicants need to fill out on their bios and financial records.

Many of these various questionnaires haven’t really been updated for 60 years — although new questions are added after every dust-up. (Think nannies.)

Everyone’s favorite is the one on the basic government form that demands you list all the places you’ve ever traveled to. That was included in 1953, during the Cold War, when people didn’t travel nearly as much. Answering it now is a nightmare for many people.

And you may have to answer that question many times pre-nomination, and then for Senate consideration. Seems on average over half the questions on the existing administration and Senate forms are duplicated.

The working group recommends that time limits be put on various questions about lawsuits, speeches, writings and so on and to narrow questions to the most relevant. That way you don’t have to list that post-college flophouse you stayed in for six months maybe 25 years ago on that street you can’t recall.

The group has developed a “common set of core questions,” Brown told us, that is “being fine-tuned now.” (It’s something like the common college application.) That way, you answer the basic questions once and the various committees can then ask additional questions specifically related to their concerns.

An “electronic smart form” is to be developed so the answers “would be transmitted automatically” to the various forms. (Now that would be a thing of beauty.)

But we’ve had so many reports over the years, so why should anyone hope for change?

“There is a sense among the working group that there’s an appetite for this right now,” Brown said. ”There’s been a very positive reaction” to the common set of questions, she said, and “everyone agrees that this is something that can be implemented immediately.”

Would save everyone — from the applicants to the Senate committees — a lot of time.

One can only hope.

Should be some seats left . . .

This overseas jaunt might be a bit of a tough sell: Rep. Mark Amodei is trying to recruit colleagues to accompany him on a CODEL to Afghanistan . . . over Christmas.

The Nevada Republican, a freshman, sent a missive looking for folks to join him to celebrate the holiday with the troops on a trip that takes off Dec. 21 and doesn’t return to Washington until Dec. 29. Not that folks don’t want to visit the war zone to light the Yuletide fires, it’s just that most already have plans with their kith and kin that time of year. (This most definitely is not a Loop-recommended trip.)

And if we were betting types, we’d put money on Congress still being in session for most of that time, anyway, since the fiscal-cliff negotiations are likely to go right down to the wire.

But the Amodei staffer making the e-mail pitch offers one selling point to would-be attendees: “This may be one of the few remaining opportunities for your boss to visit Afghanistan before more troop reductions occur,” he writes.

For some, that might sound better than a home-cooked turkey.

The group can consist of a maximum of six members and one has to be a Dem, he writes.

Cue the strains of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

With Emily Heil

The blog:
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
67% 22%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.