Tags: michelle | obama | role

Michelle Obama Wants More Influence on President's Agenda

Friday, 26 Jun 2009 02:01 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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With her new chief of staff in high gear, first lady Michelle Obama wants to embark on an ever more relevant role in the White House — one that places her as a salient force behind her husband’s political agenda, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Her new chief of staff, Susan Sher, 61, is tasked with keeping the first lady and her team a significant blip on the West Wing’s radar screen.

To augment Sher, Obama is bringing in a fresh speechwriter who can cope with her new strategic ploy of making each and every event reverberate with purpose and message.

“Her desire is to step out more and have deliverables,” communications chief Camille Johnston told the Post. “It’s about things that are coming up that we want to be a part of: child nutrition reauthorization act, prevention and wellness for healthcare reform.”

For sure, these days Obama has been more out front touting the specifics of the president’s health plan. She is slated to soon unveil an advisory board to help military families. Furthermore, she just launched the administration’s “United We Serve,” a summer-long national service program.

Every Michelle Obama event, down to the most casual, must be more than just grip and grin. For instance, the Post pointed out, before the annual White House barbecue this week, the 500 guests gathered at nearby Fort McNair to stuff backpacks with treats for the children of military personnel.

Early on when first organizing and orienting her staff, Obama made it clear that they were to avoid East Wing-West Wing tensions that have in the past foiled the “seamless” interaction between the first lady’s staff and the president’s.

Sher is the architect of just how to best put the first lady in the game. “The key is you can get schedule-driven as opposed to being strategy-driven. You could spend all your time yes-no, yes-no — as opposed to [deciding] what are the things that we really should be working on,” she told the Post.

Attorney Sher hit the ground running in her new post, ramping up interaction with Anita Dunn, the West Wing’s communications director. “Anita is paying attention to us over here,” Sher said.

Obama has gathered a cadre of trusted associates to propel her legacy forward. Jocelyn Frye, a friend from Harvard Law School, is the first lady’s policy director. A Washington native, she has been instrumental in getting Obama to visit the District’s homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and schools.

To date, Obama has interacted with students from no less than 30 Washington schools, topping off her aggressive outreach to the community by developing the first White House summer internship program for D.C. high school students.

But Michelle Obama is just getting warmed up with her mission to be the most relevant first lady in history.

Each morning, Sher attends White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s staff meeting. Meanwhile, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, the first lady’s press secretary, is right there at White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’ daily meetings.

They’re all focused on raising the stakes. “It isn’t just about hugging,” Sher said. “Whatever she talks about will bring press and interest, but it’s important that she’s not just talking [but] actually moving forward on those issues.”

Case in point: This week, Michelle Obama added her own star power to Jon Bon Jovi and Matthew McConaughey, who joined her and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others in San Francisco to speak to the National Conference for Service and Volunteering, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

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