Is Michelle Obama the power behind the White House throne in Washington? Or is it the American Vice-President Joe Biden? Or, Chief of White House staff Rahm Emanuel? Could it be State Department chief Hillary Clinton? Or, Barack Obama’s mother-in-law, Marian Robinson?
“You may not recognise her face, or her name. Yet Valerie Jarrett is arguably the most powerful person in the White House apart from the President, ” says Robert Draper of The Independent.
“Valerie Jarrett is a Washington outsider with a Washingtonian’s mind-deadening job title: senior adviser and assistant to the President for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement.
“Roughly translated, she is Obama’s intermediary to the outside world. But the 52-year-old Jarrett is also the President’s closest friend in the White House, and it is not lost on her colleagues that when senior staff meetings in the Oval Office break up, she often stays behind with the boss.
“Over a four-month period of reporting, I struggled to understand Jarrett’s ineffable raison d’être in the Obama White House. Perhaps proving that nothing succeeds like failure, my plaintive queries were unexpectedly rewarded one afternoon by a telephone call from the President himself.
” ‘Well, Valerie is one of my oldest friends,’ Obama began. ‘Over time, I think our relationship evolved to the point where she’s like a sibling to me … I trust her completely.’ As his surrogate, Jarrett is trusted ‘to speak for me, particularly when we’re dealing with delicate issues’.
“Among the narrative threads that are weaved, almost uninterrupted, throughout the history of the American presidency, is the inevitable presence in the White House of The One Who Gets the Boss. Karen Hughes got George W Bush. Bruce Lindsey got Bill Clinton. And so on, back to Thomas Jefferson’s lifelong reliance on the counsel of James Madison.
“Jarrett was born of African-American parents in Shiraz, Iran, where her physician father was running a hospital as part of an American aid programme. Obama’s fabled ‘exoticism’ was therefore comprehensible to her, the President told me. ‘She and I both are constantly looking for links and bridges between cultures and peoples,’ he said.”