New book details first lady's tensions with former top Obama advisers

First lady Michelle Obama had a tense relationship with several of the president's former top aides, including former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, according to a new book about the Obamas.

An article in The New York Times, based on an upcoming book, details the first lady's relationship with the president's top handlers, as well as her transformation from reluctant participant to ambitious political actor. The president and first lady declined to be interviewed for The Obamas, which was written by Times correspondent Jodi Kantor.

The White House dismissed the book as "an overdramatization of old news," and emphasized that the Obamas did not contribute to its writing.

"The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the President and First Lady, reflect little more than the author's own thoughts.  These second-hand accounts are staples of every Administration in modern political history and often exaggerated," said White House Spokesman Eric Schultz.

The article indicates that the first lady was often frustrated with how the president's inner circle was guiding his first term in office, describing her as "privately fuming" after Republican Scott Brown shocked Democrats by winning the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts.

Aides said her frustration was evident to the president, who said, "She feels as if our rudder isn't set right."

ADVERTISEMENT
In particular, Emanuel and former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs are shown as having particularly complicated relationships with the first lady. Emanuel ignored her pleas to be used to help the president's push for health care reform, but bristled when she resisted efforts to get her on the campaign trail during the 2010 midterm elections.

Emanuel thought pushing health care reform at that point was a bad political strategy, and the article states that he actually offered to resign his position in early 2010 after news reports revealed his disapproval. The president rejected the offer, and instead said "his punishment" was to stay and push through the healthcare reform effort. Emanuel eventually left the White House in October 2010, and now is the mayor of Chicago.

The article also details another breaking point between Gibbs and the first lady, over a French book that claimed that Michelle Obama told French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that life in the White House was "hell." After fighting back against the story vehemently, eventually earning a denial from Sarkozy's office, Gibbs's frustration boiled over when he heard that Michelle Obama had doubts about the White House's response.

Gibbs went an expletive-laden tirade, and interrogated Valerie Jarrett, a top White House adviser and close confidant of both Obamas, about where the concerns were coming from. He closed the rant by cursing the first lady and storming out.

Gibbs admitted to the event in the article, but said he had misdirected his anger. However, he said the event caused him to stop taking Valerie Jarett, who remains a top aide to the president, "at all seriously as an adviser to the president."

The article paints Michelle Obama as initially a reluctant participant in the circus that comes with being a member of the first family. After the president won the election in 2008, she actually suggested that she and the two Obama children remain in Chicago for the first months of his term, moving into the White House only after the school year had concluded to ease the transition. She ultimately decided to move to Washington at the time of the inauguration to keep the family together.