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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Obama’s Top Adviser Talks Trust, Scandals, Immigration

President Barack Obama walks through his Hyde Park neighborhood with senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to Marty Nesbitt's home, Saturday, June 2, 2012, in Chicago. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

President Barack Obama walks through his Hyde Park neighborhood with senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to Marty Nesbitt’s home, Saturday, June 2, 2012, in Chicago. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Jeremy Hobson joins Here & Now as co-host on July 1, but in the meantime he brought us an interview with President Obama’s top adviser.

Hobson caught up with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett at Wellesley College on Friday, where Jarrett was a commencement speaker.

Jarrett has known the president and and the first lady since 1991, when she hired the Michelle Obama — then Michelle Robinson — to work in the mayor’s office in Chicago.

She has been a good friend and mentor to the Obamas. In addition to being a senior adviser to the president, she oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Interview Highlights

Why does the president trust you?

“Part of having a longterm relationship is that we’ve had a chance to see each other when times were good but more importantly when times were bad. You learn a lot about people with whom you work, or your friends and your family even, when you’re at the trough and not at the peak. And so we’ve been through a lot together.”

What do you make of criticism that he has too small a circle of advisers, that outside voices are not being allowed in?

“I’m responsible for public engagement and I know if you look at the records at the White House for the number of people — diverse ranges of people — who come through every single day, I would disagree with that. Part of being where we are is that people always say all kinds of things. It doesn’t necessarily bear resemblance to the truth. I think that he actually has an intellectual curiosity — a hungry appetite — for new ideas all the time. Does he have there with him people with whom he has known and worked for a long time? Yes, but we work right alongside of people who he’s met during his short time in Washington.”

When will we have an immigration bill?

“Very soon. I think one of the bright spots, in terms of Congress working with the administration, is on comprehensive immigration reform. During the last term we didn’t see that kind of cooperation for a range of reasons, but now we do. And it’s heartening to see that within Congress bipartisan group of eight leaders in the Senate came together and forged a bill that’s already passed out of committee in a very bipartisan vote, and we’re optimistic that it’ll have a successful vote on the Senate floor and then move to the House. And I think everybody realizes that the time is now.”

How much have a setback have these recent scandals and controversies been to the agenda?

“I think our primary objective is to continue to move forward and we can’t allow ourselves to get distracted by something that happens to be caught up in the 24 hour cable cycle. But we have to really keep focusing on what the American people are counting on us to do. We certainly have to learn, we have to improve, but we also can’t allow ourself to go off course. You have to just keep your eye on what the prize is.”

Valerie Jarrett’s 2013 Commencement Address at Wellesley College


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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