As President Obama moves to revamp his senior White House staff in the weeks leading up to Inauguration Day, he may want to consider adding something distinctly lacking from the highest echelons of the West Wing: Diversity.
Incredibly, nearly all the most senior advisors to the nation’s first black president – whose appeal to minorities and women won him reelection – are white males. Democrats made much during the campaign of an alleged GOP “war on women.” But Obama’s own battalions include relatively few of the distaff variety.
Of what are arguably the ten top most important White House advisers, only one – Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett – is a woman. Jarrett is also African American.
But the other nine are each white men: Vice President Joe Biden; Senior Advisor David Plouffe; Chief of Staff Jack Lew; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Counselor to the President Pete Rouse; National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling; Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer; Acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients; and Press Secretary Jay Carney.
White House officials are particularly powerful because, unlike members of the Cabinet, they have constant, direct access to the president.
Even if one expands the list to a broader basket of powerful players, including a few outside the White House, Obama isn’t doing very well on the diversity scale.
Only one of a group that now includes 24 advisers, Domestic Policy Director Cecelia Munoz, is Hispanic. Just seven – Munoz, Jarrett, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the White House Counsel and two deputy Chiefs of Staff – are women, less than a third of the total.
The rest are men: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan, Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors, chief speechwriter Jon Favreau, a third deputy chief of staff, and the Council of Economic Advisers Chair. Of these, only two are minorities – Holder and Nabors, who are each African American.
One chit in Obama’s favor is that Jarrett may be Obama’s closest aide. It’s also worth noting that he has another African American woman close to him who provides important advice, although she is not exactly an appointed official: Michelle Obama.