Valerie Jarrett on What to Expect from the Biden Presidency - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Valerie Jarrett on What to Expect from the Biden Presidency

Valerie Jarrett on What to Expect from the Biden Presidency

By Nick Fouriezos


The former White House senior adviser knows a little something about transitions and leaders.

By Nick Fouriezos

Valerie Jarrett, the former White House senior adviser to Barack Obama, sat for a revealing interview with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show. The following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.

What is something about Obama that would surprise people?

Jarrett: He’s one of the brightest people I’ve ever met. He’s absolutely able to absorb a lot of pain, I talk about that in my book a lot, which is — leaders should have to learn to take incoming without it debilitating you, or making you numb. And he has the ability to absorb the pain and take the long view. And that takes a lot of courage and strength. And there were times when people would say to me, “Well, why doesn’t he lose his temper and yell? And he’s always so Zen-like and calm, and why doesn’t he just, you know, have a temper tantrum?” Well, you know what, now we see what that looks like. And it’s not very pretty in the leader of the United States and the leader of the free world.

I’ll never forget this during the convention speech in 2012, [Michelle Obama] said, “People say to [me] what has changed your husband since he’s been president?” And she said, “Nothing has changed him. It has simply revealed who he really is.”

There’s just not a single time he ever lost his temper at his staff. And believe me, we gave him plenty of opportunity to do so. And he just never did that. He never indulged that emotion. I remember when the website broke, you would think having asked us every month for a year, will it be, will it work? That when it didn’t work, he could have had some harsh words. And instead he said, “Well, how are we going to fix it?” And that’s the part of him that I think makes him such a good leader, is that it’s not about indulging his own emotions. It’s about why you’re there, the purpose of service.

How worried are you about the post-election transfer of power?

Jarrett: The path between here and there might not be very pleasant. It certainly won’t be as smooth as it should be. I co-chaired President Obama’s transition back in 2008, and I can’t speak more positively about how helpful President Bush and his entire family were to us. His daughter Jenna posted a photo earlier today of her giving a tour of the house to Sasha and Malia. So from the Bush children to Laura Bush, to President Bush and his entire administration, their job was to make our job easier coming in. We may not have agreed about policy, but we understood that this wasn’t about politics. It was about governance, and President Obama insisted that we do the same when President Trump was elected.

That’s part of what we should take great pride in here in our country. And the fact that that’s not happening now is troubling. But I would say that I was comforted with what President-elect Biden said earlier this week. And he said, “Look, it’ll work out.” Would it be helpful to have the memorandum of understanding signed, which will allow us to have non-public information from all the agencies? Would it be helpful to have the presidential daily briefing of the resources that come along with a proper formal transition? Sure. But he’s very confident that based on his track record and his experience, and the incredible team that he surrounded himself with, and having chosen Ron Klain [as chief of staff], who I also had a privilege of working with so closely in the White House, that he’ll be able to hit the ground running.

What advice would you give to President-elect Biden?

Jarrett: The fact that he was a part of, a very important part, of President Obama’s closest advisers gives him the ability to walk in the door, and as I said earlier, hit the ground running. I suppose I would say to him, just remember that you waited your whole life for this moment, you are as prepared as anyone has ever been to set foot in that Oval Office. And I know that he will hold close to his heart the American people, that they will drive his every decision. And fortunately he’s had enough experience to kind of brush off the nonsense of the 24-hour news cycle and focus on us, the American people.


Jarrett at the United State of Women Summit in May 2018 in Los Angeles

Source VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty

And I know that, that’s what he will do, and that’s probably the best advice I could give, not just him, but any president, that just wake up in the morning remembering what a privilege it is to serve even on the hardest days and that he is ready for this moment. I think President Obama’s memoirs are going to come up soon, and there was a great book review about his book earlier today in the New York Times. And one of his strengths is his willingness to say, you know, what could I do better, in having some humility to reflect inward and be honest with yourself, and then be honest with the American people.

I think that’s such a strong indication of leadership that our country needs right now. Someone who will pull us together, who doesn’t think he has all the answers. Who’s a good listener, who will motivate our country to try to pull together and recognize that one leader can’t do it alone. You really need the entire nation engaged.

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