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The NYTimes' Fascinating Profile of Valerie Jarrett: Snubbed Soros, Has Secret Service Detail, & Once Confused a 4-Star General for a Waiter


Ten of the most interesting revelations.

President Barack Obama walks through his Hyde Park neighborhood with senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to his friend, Marty Nesbitt's home, Saturday, June 2, 2012, in Chicago.Credit: AP

On Sunday, the New York Times released a fascinating profile of Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. While there are some details that are not new, there is plenty that is new or that at least seems to confirm what used to be categorized as rumor. Below, we've excerpted some of the best nuggets. [All subsequent emphasis added.]

1. Obama's chief of staff during the contraception mandate, Bill Daley, admits it was Jarrett who was behind the whole thing. He was also left out of the loop:

Worried about the political and legal implications, the chief of staff, William M. Daley, reached out to the proposal’s author, Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary. How, he wondered, had the White House been put in this situation with so little presidential input? “You are way out there on a limb on this,” he recalls telling her.“It was then made clear to me that, no, there were senior White House officials who had been involved and supported this,” said Mr. Daley, who left his post early this year.

What he did not realize was that while he was trying to put out what he considered a fire, the person fanning the flames was sitting just one flight up from him: Valerie Jarrett, the Obamas’ first friend, the proposal’s chief patron and a tenacious White House operator who would ultimately outmaneuver not only Mr. Daley but also the vice president in her effort to include the broadest possible contraception coverage in the administration’s health care overhaul.

2. When Warren Buffett recently showed up for a private lunch with Obama, Jarrett made sure she had a seat at the table -- literally:

Yet if that answer remains elusive, interviews with more than two dozen former and current administration officials offer a portrait of a woman wielding a many-faceted portfolio of power.

Partly it is her ubiquity, the guiding hand in everything from who sits on the Supreme Court to who sits next to whom at state dinners, the White House staff memos peppered with “VJ thinks” or “VJ says.” When the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett showed up for a private lunch with the president last July, the table was set for three.

Ms. Jarrett often serves as a counterweight to the more centrist Clinton veterans in the administration, reminding them and her innately cautious boss that he came to Washington to do big things. Some of his boldest moves, on women’s issues, gay rights and immigration, have been in areas she cares about most. If Karl Rove was known as George W. Bush’s political brain, Ms. Jarrett is Mr. Obama’s spine.

3. We've heard this before, but the Times confirms that Jarrett often follows Obama to his private residence:

But few have had the stature — and the ability to step outside traditional White House protocol — of Ms. Jarrett. She is the only staff member who regularly follows the president home from the West Wing to the residence, a practice that has earned her the nickname “the Night Stalker.” By day, Mr. Obama is “Mr. President” to her, but in social settings, he is just “Barack.” When the Obamas take an out-of-town break, she often goes along.

4. Guess who was the one Obama was consulting after America's credit rating was downgraded?

After a ratings agency downgraded the nation’s debt last year, it was not the Treasury secretary at the president’s side, helping map out how to manage the market’s reaction. According to a participant in the discussion, it was Ms. Jarrett, who had joined Mr. Obama and a few close friends at Camp David for his birthday.

5. She's smart, but can be assuming and arrogant. In fact, she once asked a general to fill her drink order:

Ms. Jarrett cuts an elegant figure in the West Wing, with her pixie haircut and designer clothes. Aides say she can be thoughtful in little ways that matter, enlisting the president to rally staff members after political or personal setbacks. But she can also be imperious — at one event ordering a drink from a four-star general she mistook for a waiter — and attached to the trappings of power in a way some in the White House consider unseemly for a member of the staff.

6. Did you know she has a Secret Service detail of her own?

A case in point is her full-time Secret Service detail. The White House refuses to disclose the number of agents or their cost, citing security concerns. But the appearance so worried some aides that two were dispatched to urge her to give the detail up.

She listened politely, one said, but the agents stayed.

7. Condoleeza Rice sends Obama foreign policy thoughts via Jarrett:

Working from a cozy office previously occupied by Mr. Rove, with a staff of nearly three dozen, Ms. Jarrett is the president’s link to the world outside the White House bubble.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice occasionally uses Ms. Jarrett, with whom she has become friendly, as an informal back channel to pass along foreign policy views, officials said.

8. She has snubbed George Soros this election:

Less well known is her testy relationship with certain elements of the president’s base.

She serves as the front door to the donors who helped elect the president, reviewing guest lists to White House parties and candidates for patronage positions. But she has snubbed some early supporters, among them the financier George Soros, ignoring his pleas for a substantive meeting on the economy with the president. The message she delivered, according to one person familiar with the exchanges, was that she felt Mr. Soros was “already on the team, and that while he might want to talk to the captain, the captain was very busy.”

Mr. Soros, who has spent tens of millions of dollars on Democratic candidates and causes, is largely sitting on the sidelines this presidential election.

9. She was "livid" with Prof. Cornel West for criticizing Obama's black outreach -- so much so he says she started spreading rumors about him:

Ms. Jarrett was similarly “livid,” one former White House official said, with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who accused the president of paying insufficient attention to the particular economic woes of blacks. When the writer and academic Cornel West joined in, calling Mr. Obama the “black mascot of Wall Street,” Ms. Jarrett’s response was “ruthless,” Dr. West said.

He recalled a phone call in which she dismissed his criticism as sour grapes for not receiving a ticket to the inauguration, and said he later heard from friends that she was putting out the word that “one, I was crazy, and two, I was un-American.”

“It was a matter of letting me know that I was, in her view, way out of line and that I needed to get in line,” he said in an interview. “I conveyed to her: ‘I’m not that kind of Negro. I’m a Jesus-loving black man who tells the truth, in the White House, in the crack house or in any other house.’ She got real quiet. It was clear that she was not used to being spoken to that way.”

10. And finally, she's been the one consistently behind some of the president's most controversial policies, including repealing "don't ask don't tell" and fighting Arizona's immigration law:

Gay rights advocates say they considered Ms. Jarrett their “secret weapon” in the White House on issues like repealing the military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And while aides said Mr. Obama found his own way toward supporting same-sex marriage, Ms. Jarrett “reinforced his instincts,” Mr. Axelrod said. This is consistent with who you are, she told the president.

On immigration, Ms. Jarrett successfully urged the president to stop deporting certain illegal residents who arrived as children. And while some of his advisers worried about the political perils of legally challenging Arizona’s tough immigration law, Ms. Jarrett argued that its central provision — requiring the police to check the immigration status of people taken into custody — amounted to racial profiling, a civil rights issue “right in the president’s wheelhouse,” recalled Pete Rouse, another senior Obama adviser. (Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld that provision, but struck down most of the law.)

While these are some of the most interesting points, the Times weaves it together into a compelling narrative. It's worth a read. It makes Karl Rove and Dick Cheney -- often portrayed as the sinister puppet masters behind George W. Bush -- look like summer interns compared to Jarrett.

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