Books depict tension between Michelle Obama, aides

First lady Michelle Obama’s tough personal criticism of her husband and protectiveness of his public image have routinely irritated, and at times outraged, President Obama’s top advisers as they compete with her for influence inside the West Wing, according to a new book.

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.

The tension provoked Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to offer his resignation after determining the president had decided, with his wife’s prodding, to go for broke on passage of the landmark health care reform law. And it led former press secretary Robert Gibbs to unleash a profanity-filled tirade when he thought, mistakenly, that the first lady had criticized him.

In “The Obamas,” New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor describes the first lady as transforming herself from a skeptical Washington outsider, who at first did not want to move into the White House after her husband’s historic victory, into a formidable presence who occasionally bests his staff in policy debates and often makes decisions without regard for political consequences.

On Friday, White House officials strongly disputed the characterizations made in the 329-page book, which will go on sale next week and was excerpted in Saturday’s New York Times. The Washington Post independently obtained a copy Friday. Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, said the book reflected Kantor’s “own opinions” and called it “an overdramatization of old news . . . about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years.”

Kantor interviewed the Obamas in 2009 for a magazine story about them, but did not speak to them again for her book, Schultz added.

“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,” he said, referring to the anecdotes as “second-hand accounts.”



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