By Nia-Malika Henderson and Peter Wallsten, Published:
September 16,2011 “so what is new, arrogant bunch that they are”????peyton 9/17/11
A new book claims that the Obama White House is a boys’ club marred by
rampant infighting that has hindered the administration’s economic policy and
left top female advisers feeling excluded from key conversations.
“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,”
by journalist Ron Suskind due out next Tuesday, details the rivalries among
Obama’s top economic advisers, Larry Summers, former chairman of the National
Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. It describes
constant second-guessing by Summers, now at Harvard, who was seen by others as
“imperious and heavy-handed” in his decision-making.
In an excerpt obtained by The Post, a female senior aide to President Obama
called the White House a hostile environment for women.
“This place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” former White House
communications director Anita
Dunn is quoted as saying. “Because it actually fit all of the classic legal
requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”
Dunn declined to discuss the specifics of the book. But in an interview
Friday she said she told Suskind “point blank” that the White House “was not a
“The president is someone who when he goes home at night he goes home to
house full of very strong women,” Dunn added. “He values having strong women
The book, due out next week, reveals a White House that at times was divided
It says that women occupied many of the West Wing’s senior positions, but
felt outgunned and outmaneuvered by male colleagues such as former Chief of
Staff Rahm Emanuel and Summers.
“I felt like a piece of meat,” Christina
Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of one meeting
in which Suskind writes she was “boxed out” by Summers.
Dunn told Suskind that the problems began during the 2008 campaign. At one
point she was viewing a television ad with other campaign officials and was
shocked to see no women in the spot.
“There isn’t a single woman in this ad,” Dunn said. “I was dumbfounded. It
wasn’t like they were being deliberately sexist. It’s just there was no one
offering a female perspective.”
The ad was later reshot, with women included.
“The president has a real woman problem,” an unnamed high-ranking female
official told Suskind. “ The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm
isn’t really fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.”
Based on interviews with more than 200 people inside and outside the White
House, Suskind’s book comes as Obama faces the lowest
poll numbers of his tenure, and deep discontent over his economic
According to the book, female staffers, like Dunn and Romer, felt sidelined.
In November 2009, female aides complained to the president about being left out
of meetings, or ignored.
Dunn said in the interview that her husband, now-White House lawyer Bob
Bauer, was “surprised to see me as someone who could be talked over in
“It’s a place where there is vigorous discussion back and forth. At various
times people have issues with their colleagues, but we were united,” Dunn said.
“I’ve been very clear that this is a president who values a diverse set of
voices on every issue.”
Dunn refused to discuss the details of “private conversations with the
president,” dinners with the economic team or conversations with book authors.
But she added: “I take issue with the idea that [the White House] was a place
where senior women weren’t involved in every aspect of every major decision and
their voices weren’t heard.”
Obama, according to the book published by Harper Collins, failed to call on
Romer after asking her male colleagues for their opinions. The snub prompted
Romer to pass a note to Summers where she threatened to walk out of the dinner,
according to the book.
The Obama White House has long been dogged by similar claims of exclusivity —
his golf outings have been typically all-male affairs, though Melody Barnes, who
heads the Domestic Policy Council was
invited on at least one round of golf in October 2009 after much grumbling
about Obama’s choice of golf buddies.
In a staff
shake-up after the midterms, Obama pushed out his long time aides, Robert
Gibbs, former press secretary, and senior aide David
Axelrod, according to the book — both remain top advisers to Obama’s
reelection campaign. Karen Finney, former communications director for the
Democratic National Committee, made the shortlist to replace Gibbs — new Chief
of Staff William Daley had expressed the desire to add more women to the inner
circle — but the job ultimately went to Jay Carney, former press secretary to
Vice President Biden.
On the economy, one key claim the book makes is that Geithner failed to
follow through on a March 2009 order to look into dissolving Citigroup, and
Obama realized that “the speed with which the bureaucracy could exercise my
decision was slower than I wanted.”
A senior Treasury official pushed back against the book’s claims, saying that
Suskind’s account of Geithner dragging his feet on on Obama’s Citigroup
directive is simply untrue.
In the book Geithner also denies that he ignored Obama’s order, but the book
offers a portrait of a president who was outmaneuvered by Beltway insiders,
according to Suskind.
“The Citibank incident, and others like it, reflected a more pernicious and
personal dilemma emerging from inside the administration: that the young
president’s authority was being systematically undermined or hedged by seasoned
advisers,” the book says.
Key decisions over the size of the February 2009 stimulus package and the
restructuring of major banks were all hampered by disagreements, and left
Obama’s advisers feeling adrift.