Senior Adviser to President Barack Obama Valerie Jarrett discussed her 24-year-long career, the White House’s top priorities and her daily life in Copley Formal Lounge on Tuesday.
The Institute of Politics and Public Service organized the event, moderated by IPPS Fellow Buffy Wicks, who was a strategist on both Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Wicks worked directly with Jarrett prior to joining the IPPS’ inaugural group of fellows. Wicks along with four other fellows has been leading IPPS events throughout the institute’s first semester on campus.
Wicks and Jarrett discussed the adviser’s views on the state of the White House and whether the administration is on track to resolve major policy issues in the president’s last year in office.
“I think we’re feeling pretty good. The reports of him being a lame duck were probably a little exaggerated,” Jarrett said. “This summer was tremendous. Congress gave the president trade promotion authority for his trade deals and the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality, which was a pretty historic moment.”
According to Jarrett, the idea to light up the White House in rainbow colors to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage came from a junior staffer.
“I think it’s going to be an iconic photograph that will go down in history that I will always remember, that we actually did move the arc of the moral universe towards justice,” Jarrett said.
Jarrett also said the administration’s next targets are criminal justice reform, gun control legislation, climate initiatives and immigration reform. Jarrett expressed the expectation of bipartisan support on the first issue, but anticipated that progress in the other issues will be a greater challenge.
However, Jarrett also stressed her frustration with the federal government’s inability to agree on comprehensive gun control legislation, saying her worst day at the White House was Dec. 14, 2012, the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
“I think it was the only time when I’ve looked around and seen Secret Service agents with tears streaming down their faces,” Jarrett said. “That’s a day I will never forget.”
On the other hand, Jarrett’s best experience at the White House was the day the Affordable Care Act passed in Congress.
“That night was about celebrating all the hard work we’d put in,” Jarrett said. “Now, it’s gone from being the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, a political football, into saving lives.”
Alexander Coopersmith (COL ’19) said he appreciated Jarrett’s advice.
“I really liked how she told her personal story about having her life all planned out, then following that plan and realizing how she hated what she was doing,” Coopersmith said. “That stuck with me. Here I was — a 19-year-old receiving advice from an advisor to the president that I don’t need a plan for the future, and I don’t need to worry about having one.”
Amanda Holloway (COL ’19) highlighted how she was inspired by Jarrett’s overall demeanor.
“I was motivated by her upbeat and down-to-earth nature. I don’t know exactly how she phrased it, but she said that certain situations have been very revealing and she had a deeper understanding of the president,” Holloway said.
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