tv Charlie Rose Bloomberg April 19, 2014 10:00pm-11:01pm EDT
nothing gets done without alyssa being part of it at the white house. she coordinates with secret service, air force one, and more. she is in on strategy. she has become like family. she started working with then senator obama in 2005. next came the campaign. she leaves this may. she will remain engaged as an outside advisor. we talked last week at the old senate office now occupied by sherry brown, the senator from ohio. >> this is it. this is where young senator obama had his four key staffers. >> yes.
>> this is the former deputy chief of staff. the press secretary. >> we did ok. >> every time i read a piece about you, it talks about power. tell me what you do. >> what i do? i think the reason people think i have power is i am the person everyone comes to. i have the answer for everything. i think the reason that people think i am so powerful is because they do not know what i do. and that mystery, which i have kept for good reason of the years, intrigues people. >> it gives you power. >> exactly. at the white house, the deputy chief of staff's job has had many permutations. i run the operations -- the
campus of the white house. that includes air force one, camp david, marine one. the personnel, 1700 full-time employees. we run the searches for cabinet secretaries. the president's schedule, how he uses time and who he sees. those things, because they are so hard to define. there is a group of people. >> you decide where he goes and how he goes. who is going to be in his cabinet. you are more powerful than they say. [laughter] >> that is generous. >> someone called you scary powerful. >> that was probably a friend. >> what does the president say about this? he says, as soon as they see you coming your power will go away.
>> because so much of my job -- there are a lot of external folks. i am internal, i don't do public speaking. this is the first iinterview i have done in eight years. when i am on the phone, i think i sound like the booming voice of oz. when people see me in person, i think someone once said i look like sally field in the flying nun. i should stay behind the curtain. >> why do you think the president of the u.s. trust you? >> it is all part of the journey. people are tested and proved themselves. when we got to this office -- >> his office when he was in the senate. >> his office in the senate. when he came here, it was a group of people. folks he had known for a year or two. over the years of decision-making and navigating tough times, your mettle is
tested. i proved to him that his success was my number one priority. i had good judgments. >> judgment. where does that come from? >> i think my parents have good judgments. the difference between right and wrong. sometimes it as simple as that. >> your instinct is there. >> i think that the thing that develops judgment is when people give you the room to make decisions. you have to sit down and critically think about all the options. the consequences and up sides of each one. when i met the president, he did not know me at all.
he assumed, because people give you a good reference, this woman must have good judgment. my judgment is good judgment for him. in life, i have good judgment. but the two of us together, we understand each other. i understand what he is trying to do and how to get there. >> i'm going to come to the president in a moment. it began when he was a senator here. you were the scheduler for john kerry, the presidential campaign. the campaign does not and well. you had the job of packing up. >> it was awful. you never want to lose a campaign. it was a really sad time. i felt like it was my duty, my loyalty to john kerry, that i wanted to make sure we wrapped everything up right. we had an office on connecticut avenue. one day i was sitting there alone, typing on my computer,
and an im message popped up. it was robert gibbs. he had worked for senator obama's campaign in illinois in 2004. they were getting the office up and running. he said, i think you might need a job. >> you said, you have been reading my mail. >> i said i would love to talk. that was the beginning. >> what did you know about barack obama? >> it is funny. i didn't know much. but since he was in the middle of a senate race, and john kerry was running for president, we crossed paths. we did an event for then candidate obama. he asked secretary kerry to do a radio call. we get this e-mail back that says, barack obama has asked jk to do a radio call. i thought, this is not how we do
things. then a couple of months later, we are in boston. we are getting ready to go to the convention. we hear -- it must have been tuesday night -- we hear this speech coming from the television. the convention. it was barack obama. we couldn't believe it. because, of course, the keynote -- >> i was there. >> it was incredible. >> he was a state senator. >> it was the most incredible speech. >> you were drawn to it. >> i remember where i was in my apartment when i heard it. >> what was it about him? >> he is so authentic. a lot of the things that people
criticized him for, he was too new to run, he had not been in the senate long enough, those were the attributes that made him it an authentic candidate. we do not have deep local roots. we didn't say there were people who had supported us, so we have to fill in the blank. we could do whatever we wanted to do. it allowed him to say the things he wanted to say. he was either going to win his way, or not when. not winning was ok as long as we tried our way. >> it would not have been ok with you. >> it would have been two in a row. but the thing that made that cap ain't so fun is the mood from the top. we were going to do it authentic.
he was going to say what he wanted to say. he was sort of our internal northstar, and that is what made it fun. you never had to fake it. >> from this office, you, the speechwriter -- >> robert gibbs. >> and our ultimate sensei, pete rouse. >> but you bond in a campaign. you test each other's metal. but you had that when he was out on the road selling his room -- book. >> it was in the fall of 2006, "the audacity of hope" came out. >> any democrat who called. >> you would be there.
>> did you know you are going to run for president? that you would be part of this? >> i was always very cautious. the whole reason i thought that working for barack obama was a good idea was because i thought after running for president, i would love to work of somebody who i knew would not run for president. even the political plan. i transitioned over to his political action committee. the plan that i wrote for us was, the plan for the best person not running for president. i wrote that in 2006. we got this would not happen. when senator harkin asked him to come, which you know is a tremendous honor -- >> and there was a caucus there. >> we thought, why not. i had been to iowa a few times
before. it was different. >> how was it different? >> it was folks in iowa -- they test you and want you to prove yourself. it is rare that you get such a pouring of enthusiasm. people were so excited to meet him. that day, robert gibbs and i were with him in iowa. this was fun. we were on the campaign trail. we were going to keep the senate, take the house. that's all we wanted to do. it was unexpected. it wasn't like a three-month
plan. >> this is 2006? >> september, 2006. >> two years later you win the presidency. and we are now in 2014. and you are leaving? why? >> because i think that, as special as i tell you these tales over the past nine years, i have had an incredible journey. and i think some body else has the chance to have the experiences i have had. >> the person succeed in is a longtime veteran. >> she is an old obama person. our downstate director in illinois. >> did he have any hint this was coming when he walked in and said, you were going to leave? >> when you get ready to leave
the white house, you don't go in in one day. you don't do that. i had previewed several months prior that i thought my time was coming. >> did he try to talk you out? >> of course. [laughter] but he knew. sometimes -- i think he knew for me, to actually get to the point where i said, you know what, it is time, he understood. >> you got married in what year? >> six months ago. >> and how long was the honeymoon? >> there has not been one yet. >> your husband is chief of staff for senator reid, the majority leader. there must be a lot of off time between the two. >> when we come home at the end of the day, there is a lot of
work talk. >> pillow talk is about politics. >> more about who did what to who. [laughter] >> who screwed who today. >> i will not put it that bluntly. >> he relished the fact that -- >> you wonder why they are scared of you? [laughter] >> it is not like that. democrats have many priorities. sometimes the white house and senate are not aligned. there's a lot of discussion about that sometimes. which is why i choose to watch the mini project and show that make me laugh. >> i love her. she was just on the show. >> so great. >> take me to this moment. you are on the couch. who got him today? >> more like a blackberry and an
ipad. >> who has a blackberry? >> i have the blackberry. he has the ipad. did you read this? i don't care. did you see what so-and-so said? he doesn't want to talk about it. sometimes we have to have a timeout. >> had he stayed behind the scenes on purpose? >> yes. because i think there are people whose roles are outward facing and folks who should be internal. when you are talking about some of the things i do, there is no reason for me to be external. i have chosen to keep my head down and do my job as i see it. >> satisfied knowing you are one of the most powerful woman in washington. [laughter] >> who wants to do everything else when this is the caps on of my career?
>> i made you that night in new york. >> i am hooked forever. >> you have had this amazing life. you going to the president and say, it is time. he knows it is time. he understands. he says an interesting thing. i'm not going to let you go unless you promise me you will be there for me, not only during the presidency, but in the post-presidency. that is an ultimate act of respect. i don't want you in my life just now. the rest of my life. >> it makes you realize that we are linked. we have been through a great adventure. >> he said, you can go and take some time off. but we are together forever. i need you around.
you have to tell me that is the deal. i said, of course. >> it hasn't turned out exactly like you had imagined it would. tell me about that. >> when he first hired me, he was not totally sold on me. [laughter] >> because you were d.c. and he was not into that. >> he wasn't interested in d.c.. pete rouse said, trust me. >> the president trusted him. he called me, call my cell phone, so i did not pick it up because i did not recognize the number. that is not something a lot of people do. he said alyssa, let's do this.
it's obama. call me back. that was it. >> go forward to the time that you had during the campaign. rented at $30,000 a plane. it turns out you had rented the plane for the wrong day. >> that was the fall of 2006. the political office was three or four people. i was doing the political trouble myself. i made a big mistake. i rented the plane for the wrong day. i cried in the office. i called robert and jordan kaplan, the finance director. i said, i realized the plane is not there. i booked it for the wrong day.
and president obama takes the phone. he says, i hear tears. there is a commercial flight in 45 minutes. we will be there in two hours. >> it hasn't turned out like how you imagined. you thought you would ride into washington and eliminate partisanship. >> that was the goal. >> you thought you would do great things. you thought you would ride into washington and really -- i think the presidency was not worth having unless you did great things. assess that for me now. >> when we were on the campaign, he always said, change of heart.
if a voice can change a room, everything builds and builds and builds. he was always honest with our supporters about that. we got to washington. it has been hard. when you think about the lack of bipartisanship, he has still gotten the incredible amount of done. he saved the economy from going into a great depression. he ended the war in iraq. 7.5 million people have health care. it may not be the vision that maybe we had or americans had, a kumbaya hands across america one party, but we have gotten a lot done. >> if that is true, and it is true, why are his polls so low?
>> i don't put much in polls. in iowa, we had bad polls. >> very different. this is not based on campaigning, this is based on performance. >> i think that for a lot of people, they want to know the president is focused on them. we have had over the past couple of months -- you have to spend time on ukraine. people think, why he is not spending that time on me? people start wondering, does the president care about them? does he want to make sure that people who work hard and play by the rules get ahead? absolutely. every day. that is his north star. with everything happening, people wonder, why are we not getting things done in congress?
he has done executive actions because we will not wait for congress all the time. he will not be slowed in helping the american people. >> this is the state of the union in 2014. we will do it by executive order. you can do some things but not big things. >> when you go into some of those approval numbers and look at people -- do they think podus the president is on their side? >> you call him podus? >> we do. president of the united states. >> pete rouse says your family. that is beyond staff. >> in a lot of ways, the president sitters a lot about family. he considers pete rouse family because there are people who, even when the polls were bad, no matter if it looked like we were loosing iowa, it didn't matter. we were going to be there with
him, win or lose. we are all family. >> to talk to people is different. it is different with you. >> he fancies himself a bit of a big brother. >> ah. >> he gives me advice. on all kinds of stuff. he likes to call me short. whenever we are having -- i am diminutive. >> but powerful. small but mighty. >> when we would travel sometimes and be on the road, maybe not everything is going great, we can always make him laugh when we say, let's talk about how short alyssa his. a smile -- then he always cracks
a smile. >> when were you most elated? what you occupy the white house and out with the day-to-day problems. your first job was you were a scheduler. >> we are coming to afghanistan. >> this is not a conversation. i'm telling you what we are doing. how did you do it? >> most of the time, it depends on whether you are asking someone to do something they don't want to do it is always wonderful if you can make it their idea. >> when the osama bin laden mission was successful, what was that like? >> i was home at bed.
i saw breaking news. >> this person that i have been telling everyone is so powerful was home in bed. >> a lot of people were not called. that is because the president had a mission. a small group of people working on it. we saw cnn breaking news and got an e-mail on our blackberries about a conference call. then we knew. that was tremendous. i had worked in the world trade center right out of college. i had friends that died on 9/11. it was more knowing that, because of what he did, those people was the more peacefully. many years later. >> what else? passage of obamacare?
>> for the administration, that was the realization of one of the real dreams the president had. >> is that his legacy? >> i think so. 7.5 million people. when people write the story years from now, it will be a huge part of his legacy. >> what is the lowest point? >> the lowest point was newtown. >> children. >> every day, you get some snippet of news. you never know what that snippet will turn into. the first reports were, a gunman in the school and potentially a teacher has been shot.
within four hours, the news was so gruesome, so unbelievable, and i think it was like december 14, the holidays. terrible news. people who are here for a holiday party. you are just trying to get the facts. when things like this happen, the president wants the facts. we were talking to the president with john brennan. all of us were cool as cucumbers. everyone with tears. >> he said it was his lowest moment. >> i bet that is true. >> we made the judgment, this will be enough to rally the nation and the congress to do so good about it.
>> it wasn't. that was a sad day, too. does that taste good about presidential leadership? >> i think in a lot of ways it says even more about special interest. that was a huge vote for the nra. if people want to gun control, i want gun control, it needs to be a grassroots movement to read people need to call their congress men and senator. everybody was not ready. >> foot stuck about style and the oval office. everybody talks about lyndon johnson. the ability to schmooze and threaten, promise. if the president had more of those qualities, they say he would have done better dealing
with the congress. >> sure. i don't believe that is true. i don't think people don't give him credit for all the things he has done. >> your parents talk to you about what it is like to do what you do? >> every time i go home, i give a solid 30 minute rundown on all the things. they are the mirror that you check yourself in. you say things like, then i met the queen. i'm going to meet the pope. that was a huge day. that was incredible. it is literally just so i do not forget. >> is really nice to have power. to be able to exercise power. to be able to change things for the benefit -- if you have power, you can do things.
>> right. >> when he looked back at this and talk to your children about it, what will you say, this is what i did. yes, i helped the president. but there are things that will go with me to my grave where i made a difference because it was me. because this president trusted me. >> hmm. i would say, one of the things that is important to me and where i think i made a huge difference is in 2007, the clinton roots went much deeper. we didn't have a vast staffing resource. i made some phone calls and begged people to work for me. begged. there were probably about 15-20
who answered my call. i talked them into coming. here we are how many years later. they stayed with me and gave me a chance. it was much more than doing it for me than anything else. they didn't know barack obama. now, those kids, they are adults now. i call them kids. they have gone out and done great things. they are ambassadors. they are running the kennedy school. i am proud of them. i think we have created people who will carry the legacy. that is something that is important to me. >> is the most exciting time of your life behind? >> it might be, but that is ok. keeping, in a certain way, if
you look at the things that have made everything so exciting, that pace of life is unsustainable. that is one, running off of adrenaline every day. that is exciting. the actual experiences, part of me -- i met the queen and the pope. i was at nelson mandela's funeral. i have been on charlie rose. what is left? >> this is a young senator who became president. one of the youngest presidents in the history. you are an eyewitness to history. you had the ear of the man and the man depends on you. to make the trains run on time. give us a sense of how that is for you. what it was like. what it is like. what makes so many people covet
it. this is the time, right now, when they are running clinical campaigns. a bunch of people anywhere from 20-60 are thinking, how can i be part of some campaign that will put me on the winning side? and if dreams can be had, in the oval office? or if not that, helping frame great legislation? that is why they are gearing up to find a campaign. you are one of those people. you hit the jackpot. >> very lucky. the reason we were successful is because very few people who joined the campaign really did it to get to the office next to
the white house. >> the purest of the pure. [laughter] >> it is true. >> was the candidate a dreamer or a realist? >> i think he was a realist who was optimistic. i think if you look at david plouffe, he did not leave and go into the white house. that was not about that for him. >> he had a good life and all he had to do was pick up the phone. give me whatever it is. >> he did. part of the recipe for getting for where i ended up is because i did not say, that is the only place i want to end up. i think that can be very disappointing. >> if you wanted so much, it
might not be so much if you were there for a dream. >> you won't enjoy the ride. when you see people on the road, i am like, put your iphone down and watch. be in the moment. if i had been in the headquarters and my motivation was getting to where i am now, i think i would have missed a great experience. >> your motivation was what? >> my motivation was to be part of a great team that believed in what they were doing. >> is it any different for people around hillary? or around george bush? or the people around the clinton? >> i don't know. >> you think you are that different? >> i don't think were that different. i think this is the first campaign -- and what it attracted was so different and
authentic -- it was just, even if we had lost, it would have been a pleasure. >> do you wish there was no term limit? >> no. there should be term limits. >> two terms is enough. if you can get it done in two terms, you are probably ready to go. >> you get tired doing this? >> yes. >> how many e-mails or texts you get a day? >> i probably get a couple hundred. >> to answer everyone -- do you answer everyone? >> i try to respond to everyone. >> that is a nice reputation to have. that you care. >> it is paid forward from pete rouse, who had the same philosophy. even if the answer is no, always respond.
>> someone said to me, who is a former aide to johnson, the last thing he did every night was make sure he returned every phone call. returned every phone call before he went to bed. >> they were so lucky to not have e-mail. it is the vest way to end your day. those are the e-mails you are returning at home. thank you for contacting me. can't do this. can do this. >> what are you most happy for people to know about you? what is it about you you are glad people know about you? judgment? trust of a president and staff? >> yes. i also like that people know i got this job not because i am from a political family. i didn't have any collections. >> your dad was not a big
fundraiser. >> i got here because i worked hard. when they had internships, and people said fax this, i said yes, please, and thank you. the more i did that, the more people liked being around me. basically anyone could -- >> if i ask you, what is the secret to your success, you would say good judgment. b, i work harder than anybody. >> i try to be kind. >> talk to me about that. jeff bezos made a commencement speech and the essence of it was kindness. >> you can be tough. >> you can still be kind.
>> you can be powerful and you can still be kind. >> how you exercise your kindness? >> you try to do nice things for people. when you treat people with respect, i think that is -- i don't yell at people. one i need somebody to do something, it is please and thank you. the more you do that, the expression you catch more flies with honey than vinegar -- nothing is ever more true. when things were tough and i was desperate for something, everyone was willing to help. >> it seems to me you have been ambitious for a long time. you said you are ambitious because of the nobility of the campaign. what you have been ambitious for yourself to be part of something large.
you did not want to be ordinary. you wanted to be any place where you could do special things. you took every opportunity and created every opportunity to create that. >> i think that most people don't want to be ordinary. there something that is special about everyone. the thing that is most important to me, where i have tried and been successful, is when i was part of a team with a mission. having a mission and knowing what you are getting up to do every single day. being with people that make that possible. who flank you, lead you, follow you. that is what i have always wanted to be a part of. >> how are you different now? >> how am i different now? >> the money for student working
for obama? >> my hair is gray. my hair is totally white. >> that is not true. >> i got my hair done for you, but it is all white. >> you are lying. >> is true. totally white. >> the president gets a little white in his hair and you say, look at me. >> he points out, because everyone is so much taller, he looks down and says, fix that. >> i'm talking like silver fox. >> you are a silver fox? show me a picture. >> there are not pictures. never pictures. one-day before i get my roots done, i will show you a picture. [laughter] >> vanity overcame you? >> it had to. i am only 38. just a couple more years.
>> anything else we ought to know? you work out? >> i do work out. i actually have this wonderful -- only on saturdays and sundays. >> that's not enough. >> that is going to change. >> don't you have a gym? you can exercise with the president. >> i do exercise that requires your total attention and focus. you can't have your blackberry. >> back to your question. how are you different? >> probably a little more cynical. >> why? >> just because. you see how things happen. you know that life is probably a little more transactional than you wanted to be. that not everyone is necessarily kind. >> doesn't make you cynical? >> a little bit.
but it is not going to not be down. i'm still going to be kind. >> are you less trusting? >> no, i'm still pretty trusting. all the people i have needed have never let me down. so i'm still trusting. >> the president and first lady has said to me, they became closer in the white house. that this big place where they live upstairs -- because they see each other. >> more than they used to. >> tell me about her and him. >> they're hilarious. they love each other and their family. >> i know. >> i'm just telling you. >> have you ever heard them fighting and screaming? >> no. never. ever. really, never. i think that the life they had in chicago was so different.
saturdays were about ballet lessons and the bookstore. it is the huge testament to their marriage. suddenly -- on one hand, the house is big. under the hand, there was nowhere to go. that was a hard transition. that is why the president loves to meet people so much. the people we bring in -- >> you mean people on the road? >> people on the road. >> you don't mean people in congress? >> he loves to meet people in congress. that is how he stays in touch. the current equivalent of the 52nd street bookstore. >> you told me at core he is a writer. >> i think that is true. >> is that how you will spend the rest of his life? or perhaps a teacher?
>> if i were to guess, i would say writing would be a big component. >> what else does he want to do? i bet you are the one person who knows, this is what i would like to do. once i get past this responsibility, i will do this and that. >> i think he would enjoy having christmas in hawaii not interrupted by debt ceilings. that will be a huge achievement. he will want to spend more normal time with his family. if i have not even thought about what i am going to do, and i am leaving in a month -- i can imagine he has thought about it. >> i bet he has. he is going to write a book. that is the first thing he is going to do. is he a reflective man? >> very much so.
one of the most intellectually curious people i have ever known. but there is not anything -- when big moments happen, it is not like the moment -- he always thinks back, what about this? what about this person? i haven't seen this person in a while? he is not one and done. things stick with him. >> loves sports. >> i was trying to break in with the sports in the olympics. i try to talk about basketball. >> he watches television? >> loves homeland and house of cards. >> is that instructive for him? >> i have never asked. i think it is more entertainment. >> you have not said one word that is bad about him? >> how could i? >> because there is not one
flaw? if you spent all these years and you have never seen a flaw, you know how because i have? i have a temper. i am disappointed if i'm not as good as i want to be. i don't play a good round of golf. >> i think he would have all the same emotions you do. he certainly wasn't -- we saw expressions of anger when the website was not working -- he did not whistle a tune. that was a serious time. >> have you ever had to say to him, calm down? >> never. only one time. only one time. it was never cool it. he was very upset about something. oh, come on, it could be worse.
that is the only way to go. then he raises the eyebrow. but he really doesn't -- he doesn't get mad. he doesn't have a temper. it has to be really bad. >> but you have seen it. >> once or twice. that's the truth. >> are you serious? >> yes. >> you think he would have a temper about so many things. it is a tough world. he has responsibility for the world. >> he gets upset about things that have happened. but in terms of anger towards me, there is one very vivid example. right before the campaign ended. >> 2012? >> this is 2008. we were in pennsylvania and it started sleeting.
i said, i think we have to keep our events. the president does not love cold weather. let me start the story there. >> i am with him. >> we see the snow start. it starts sleeting. we tell them, he is going to do this. he gets up there any sleep is hitting him on the face. i see him put his hand out. reggie love puts the phone in the hand. two seconds later, my phone rang. he said, alyssa. i said, yes sir? where are you? i am at my desk. must be nice. he hung up on me. that is the only time -- i try to explain that john mccain canceled the events. but that was the end of the conversation. [laughter] >> what did you think of the moment?
>> i told plouffe the story. >> this is what some have said about you. the president will find her exit harder to deal with because she was the backstop. she handles so much stuff that people were not aware of. what is he talking about? >> i think that i have a very -- the one thing that makes the white house function is people swim in their lanes. i have made it a point to swim in my lane, but i see things. it if we are having an event and i notice someone has not been invited, i say hold on, have we thought about this person? if we are going to make an announcement, there are only a handful of us that have the historical knowledge that goes all the way back to, he should not do that because when he was a senator, he voted against the
funding. >> memory is walking out of the white house. >> memory is not dying. memory is going to be on gmail. it will be fine. those are the things. there are not a lot of us that remember every pothole going all the way back to the beginning of time. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> it is a pleasure. >> amazing. capstone. >> thank you for joining us. see you next time. ♪