CBS NEWS Exclusive: Meet Obama's right-hand woman - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

CBS NEWS Exclusive: Meet Obama's right-hand woman

Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.  (CBS) Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett. (CBS)

Posted by Nick Dutton - email

(CBS) - They call her the other side of Barack Obama's brain. A similar phrase was used to describe Karl Rove's closeness to President Bush. But Valerie Jarrett - unlike Rove - is not a professional political strategist. She's a business leader, a single mother, and, maybe, Chicago's most powerful woman after Oprah Winfrey. A former adviser to Mayor Daley, Jarrett's earned the complete confidence of Barack and Michelle Obama, and both Obamas say they don't make a big decision without consulting her first. Valerie Jarrett is someone America will see a lot more of between now and Election Day, and maybe for years to come. CBS News anchor Katie Couric spoke with her Monday.

Katie Couric: You first met the Obamas when you were trying to hire Michelle.

Valerie Jarrett: I did.

Katie Couric: for a job.

Valerie Jarrett: I was trying to recruit her into city government when I was Mayor Daley's deputy chief of staff. In fact, I offered her a job on the spot. She was just so extraordinary.

Katie Couric: And before she took the job, she wanted you to meet her fiancée?

Valerie Jarrett: She did. In fact the three of us had dinner - and you know she had some serious reservations about whether to leave the practice of law and leap into the mayor's office into a political environment. And the two of them said 'How about we have dinner and talk this through.' And I knew that if that the conversation didn't go well, the two of them were gonna go home and say, "Well, not so much. Maybe that's not the right move." So at the end of the dinner I did say well, did I pass the test? And he laughed and of course she did join us and made a huge difference.

Jarrett has now known the Obamas for 17 years, and is one of their closest friends, Couric reports. Her title on the campaign is senior adviser - which means she often serves as Obama's surrogate at meetings and events he can't attend. After Michelle, Valerie Jarrett may be one of the people he trusts the most.

Katie Couric: Do they look to you to keep them honest?

Valerie Jarrett: Absolutely. I would describe it not so much as honest but to give them a gut check and help them look at themselves. When you have so many people giving him advice often times, I'll just say, you know, "What do you think?"

Katie Couric: I understand you were critical when it came to the controversy over Reverend Wright. What did you advise him to do?

Valerie Jarrett: It was a very personal and painful experience for both he and Michelle. And I think you know to have your pastor say things which you totally disagree. That you have never heard him say before. And to say things about you that aren't so kind on a national platform which turns into an international platform was painful. I did encourage him to give that speech on race. I encouraged him to, you know, speak from the heart, which he did and I think it will go down as one of the greatest speeches ever.

Valerie Jarrett is part of a new generation of black leaders, and her biggest influence is her pioneering parents, reports Couric. Her mother is a child psychologist and educator who continues to hold two jobs to this day. Her father, a renowned doctor who traveled with his family to Africa and Iran to study blood diseases and genetics.

Valerie Jarrett: He was the first African-American resident at St. Luke's hospital. And he kind of broke the barrier. They told him he had to come in through the back door, and he wasn't about to do that as a physician and so he walked in the front door. And then the next day, all of the African-American staff came in the front door with him, so that kind of broke the glass ceiling there.

Katie Couric: How have you been shaped by the accomplishments of your parents?

Valerie Jarrett: To grow up with my parents who were one step removed from such blatant discrimination, my parents said, "Look, life is not fair. Don't expect it to be fair. Work twice as hard. And, you know, just keep focused on working hard. And eventually it will pay off."

Katie Couric: You've also said it's always going to be harder as a woman. I'm just curious if you saw any of that in the primary process and your thoughts on how Hillary Clinton was treated?

Valerie Jarrett: This was a hard journey and she took hits along the way - many times she was treated very unfairly but she persevered. And so in that sense because it was harder, her accomplishment is even greater.

Katie Couric: What do you envision yourself doing if Senator Obama is successful and elected?

Valerie Jarrett: I can't even go there. You know, it's a very simple question. You'd think I could answer it. I can't. It's a distraction. It's a distraction. And Senator Obama tells us to keep focused. And as Michelle says not getting ahead of ourselves.

CBS News contributed this report.


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