Obama has said he consults Jarrett on every major decision, something current and former aides corroborate. “Her role since she has been at the White House is one of the broadest and most expansive roles that I think has ever existed in the West Wing,” says Anita Dunn, Obama’s former communications director. Broader, even, than the role of running the West Wing. This summer, the call to send Attorney General Eric Holder on a risky visit to Ferguson, Missouri, was made by exactly three people: Holder himself, the president, and Jarrett, who were vacationing together on Martha’s Vineyard. When I asked Holder if Denis McDonough, the chief of staff, was part of the conversation, he thought for a moment and said, “He was not there.” (Holder hastened to add that “someone had spoken to him.”)
Jarrett holds a key vote on Cabinet picks (she opposed Larry Summers at Treasury and was among the first Obama aides to come around on Hillary Clinton at State) and has an outsize say on ambassadorships and judgeships. She helps determine who gets invited to the First Lady’s Box for the State of the Union, who attends state dinners and bill-signing ceremonies, and who sits where at any of the above. She has placed friends and former employees in important positions across the administration—“you can be my person over there,” is a common refrain.
And Jarrett has been known to enjoy the perks of high office herself. When administration aides plan “bilats,” the term of art for meetings of two countries’ top officials, they realize that whatever size meeting they negotiate—nine by nine, eight by eight, etc.—our side will typically include one less foreign policy hand, because Jarrett has a standing seat at any table that includes the president…
There is an element of truth to this critique. While aboard Air Force One at the end of the 2012 campaign, Jarrett turned to Obama and told him, “Mr. President, I don’t understand how you’re not getting eighty-five percent of the vote.” The other Obama aides in the cabin looked around in disbelief before concluding that she’d been earnest.