- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

Michelle Obama is most interested in easing the transition for her young daughters, not in “having a seat at the table and being a co-president,” a family friend and adviser to President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday.

“Her first priority as she comes to Washington and moves into the White House are those two darling girls, making sure that they’re OK, getting them in school, getting them comfortable,” said Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend of the Obamas’ who is helping lead the transition team.

Daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, aside, Mrs. Obama’s interests lie in helping working women do a better job juggling careers and motherhood, as she did working as an administrator at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

She also wants to help military spouses and promote volunteerism.

“And she’ll go from there,” Ms. Jarrett said in a broadcast interview. “But having a seat at, at the table and being a co-president is not something that she’s interested in doing.”

Mrs. Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, also is moving with the family from Chicago. Mrs. Obama will “have her hands full,” Ms. Jarrett said.

Mr. Obama has portrayed his wife as one of his top advisers, and it’s safe to assume she will continue in that role at the White House. He has described her as the family’s “rock” and told Newsweek magazine she had “veto power” over his decision to run for president.

An Ivy League-educated lawyer, Mrs. Obama was criticized throughout the campaign, and Ms. Jarrett’s comments could be taken as the beginning of an effort to lower her profile, de-emphasize her adviser role and present a more traditional first lady persona, possibly to avoid repeating the mistake the Clintons made.

Mrs. Obama was not deeply involved in policy during the campaign. When she gave interviews to the media, it was on the condition that reporters not ask her about policy.

First ladies often start out slow but ramp it up as they become more comfortable in their roles. The modern-day exception is Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Bill Clinton joked during the 1992 campaign that the country would get two for the price of one if he was elected.

A high-powered lawyer and children’s advocate before he became president, Mrs. Clinton accepted an assignment from him early in his administration to overhaul the nation’s health care system. She failed.

Laura Bush also started slowly but grew increasingly comfortable in the past eight years with her public platform and ability to draw attention to issues. She championed the rights of women in Afghanistan, delivered some her husband’s weekly radio addresses and spoke out against the crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar. She also has traveled through Europe, the Middle East and Africa on her own.

Earlier this year, Mrs. Bush even presided over a news conference in the White House briefing room — rare for a first lady — that was called to criticize Myanmar’s military leaders for ineptness after a killer cyclone struck the country.

Mrs. Obama always has said her daughters are her priority. In her words, they are the last thing she thinks about before falling asleep at night and first thing on her mind when she wakes up in the morning. She often took day trips to campaign for her husband and arranged her schedule to be home in time to tuck them in at night and see them off to school in the morning before heading out again.

Her job at the moment, the president-elect said at a news conference Friday, is “scouting out some schools” for the girls.

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