Archive for Sunday, August 16, 2009

Obamas not the only couple in the White House

August 16, 2009


Assistant White House press secretary Tommy Vietor stands next to his new fiancee, Katie McCormick-Lelyveld, Michelle Obama’s chief spokeswoman.

Assistant White House press secretary Tommy Vietor stands next to his new fiancee, Katie McCormick-Lelyveld, Michelle Obama’s chief spokeswoman.

— Barack Obama has more than one way of bringing people together: Just ask Cass and Samantha. Or Anita and Bob. Or Tommy and Katie.

It turns out there are power couples all over the White House, united both in marriage and by policy.

The aide charged with managing all government regulations and a top national security official just had their first child together. The White House’s top communications official is married to the Obamas’ personal attorney. And the president’s recent trip to France provided the perfect backdrop for a marriage proposal in the residence of the U.S. ambassador to France.

Tommy Vietor, a 28-year-old assistant White House press secretary, surprised Michelle Obama’s chief spokeswoman inside the ornate mansion while the Obamas were visiting Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Vietor wasn’t part of the official trip, but flew overnight to make the unannounced visit.

“I was shaking — he completely surprised me,” 30-year-old Katie McCormick Lelyveld said. “I couldn’t have picked a more perfect way for this to happen.”

When told of the proposal, Obama said Vietor had pulled off a “smooth move.”

The Vietor-McCormick Lelyveld wedding — no date has been set — will add another couple to the list of administration officials who share more than an employer.

Although the couples decline interviews, citing a White House policy against profiles involving staffers’ personal lives, they don’t work in anonymity.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Samantha Power is a senior official at the National Security Council, where she continues to be among the familiar voices Obama consults. Next door, at a government office building, former Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein oversees government regulations for the Office of Management and Budget.

Power and Sunstein met during the Obama campaign, started dating just before last year’s leadoff caucuses in Iowa, and were married by summer.

“You know what they say,” Sunstein told a magazine before the November election. “Obama brings people together.”

It’s not far off in this case.

Obama phoned Power in 2005 to discuss her book on genocide; she offered to leave her job at Harvard to intern in his Senate office during a four-hour meeting. Sunstein, meanwhile, worked alongside Obama at the University of Chicago Law School until he left to join Power at Harvard.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Power resigned after causing a firestorm when she referred to Hillary Rodham Clinton as a “monster.” She later returned to work as Obama’s senior foreign policy adviser.

Both Power and Sunstein retain their outsized reputations inside academic circles and, amid the chaos of the new administration, had their first child in April.

Steps from the Oval Office, veteran image master Anita Dunn recently rejoined former campaign colleagues as the president’s interim communications director. Her husband, Bob Bauer, already was working as the Obamas’ attorney.

Dunn initially had turned down an offer to join the White House after the campaign, promising her family she’d return to her consulting firm and the dining room table. But a staff shake-up pushed Ellen Moran out and Obama turned back to Dunn, who during the campaign shaped the broad message and worked with women’s groups. She couldn’t say no.

Next door to Dunn’s West Wing office, her deputy Dan Pfeiffer manages the White House’s day-to-day spin. Just steps up the hall, his wife Sarah Feinberg is a top aide to the White House chief of staff.

Pfeiffer and Feinberg met while they worked on Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. He was based in Nashville; she, in her native West Virginia. They started dating two years later, when they both worked on the re-election campaign of Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

“I thought the world of her as a colleague and a friend, but in terms of a relationship, I didn’t put two and two together for a long time,” Pfeiffer told The New York Times for his 2006 wedding announcement. “But sitting four feet away from her, well, it wasn’t very long before I wanted to go out with her.”

When Rahm Emanuel became Obama’s chief of staff, he brought along Feinberg, his spokeswoman in the U.S. House. Pfeiffer, meanwhile, moved from his Michigan Avenue campaign office in Chicago back into his Washington home he left two years earlier.


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