Would you like an extra-helping of leading indicators with your breakfast, Mr. President?
In the course of several recent conversations with senior administration officials, when asking about what real differences have emerged between the way in which the Obama White House works and the way past White Houses have worked, I’ve gotten a few answers that were something more than just repackaged press releases. The most notable of ...
In the course of several recent conversations with senior administration officials, when asking about what real differences have emerged between the way in which the Obama White House works and the way past White Houses have worked, I’ve gotten a few answers that were something more than just repackaged press releases.
The most notable of these has been the initiation of a daily economics briefing for the president. Referred to by one senior staffer as the “Economic PDB”, a reference to the president’s Daily Brief which has been the centerpiece of daily security updates for presidents since Lyndon Johnson, this meeting reportedly involves a discussion of economic agenda items for the day ahead and then focuses on one issue in more depth. The sessions are led by the president’s top economic advisor, Larry Summers, working in conjunction with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Participants in the daily 40 or so minute meeting include OMB Director Peter Orzag, other top members of the economic team plus White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, plus close Obama advisors like David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett.
The introduction of such a meeting is timely, given the administration’s heavy economic agenda, but it is also long overdue…a smart step that has helped restore the National Economic Council to the status that was intended for it when it was created during the Clinton Administration but which withered during the Bush years. Indeed, if the NEC maintains or grows its current clout within this White House… the conventional buzz about whether Summers was really just tucked into his current slot to keep him on standby for the Fed chairmanship is likely to fade. The current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, has won plenty of admirers for his handling of the economic crisis and for a wry lucidity his predecessor lacked. He can stay right where he is, Summers can be the Obama team’s economic quarterback, Geithner can run Treasury with the growing assuredness that has marked the past few months and Obama can have a win-win-win. (I should also add that my sense is that the daily briefings are reflected in the fact that Obama has in a few short months become one of the most economically fluent presidents in recent memory.)
In a parallel development Summers and his deputy Mike Froman have gotten high marks from White House and agency staffers for assuring that there is little friction between the NEC and NSC, that the two really work well in tandem. This is important because of course, clearly economic and security issues are closely inter-related.
On that front, by the way, it is frustrating that the process of picking a new head for U.S. AID has gotten bogged down to the extent that it has. (I’m not the first to note this, of course. The issue was the reason for Hillary Clinton’s recent outburst…which is to say moment of clarity…about the absurd vetting process that is one of this administration’s enduring problem areas.) Economic development and emergency economic intervention issues are critical to achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives worldwide but especially in the greater Middle East. The U.S. government still has an institutional void on the emergency economic front that might have been helped by early, now defunct, proposals to create a new development agency. However, that said, the current leadership void in this area is a more serious problem than acknowledged (think Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) and filling it ought to be a top priority.
Two notable differences between this White House and its immediate predecessors that were cited by people very familiar with the predecessors were: much greater discipline on information flows to the press and much less obsession with some of Washington’s lesser forms of political gamesmanship…especially as far as the wingnuts are concerned. Said one observer very familiar with the Clinton White House, “they would have been going nuts on an issue like this ‘birther’ nonsense but these guys have seen it for what it is…a distraction…and pretty much dealt with it and moved on.” While the reflexively anti-Obama crowd will take issue with this…I think it’s a pretty fair statement.
Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images
David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf
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