For a position routinely described as the "worst job in the world," the White House chief of staff isn't a terrible gig. If anything, it's generally a pretty good launchpad to higher office (Dick Cheney, Rahm Emanuel) or at least a lucrative spot on the paid speaking appearance circuit (pretty much all of them).
It's also a job that gets described with mixed sports metaphors, judging from a exclusive clip Washingtonian received from The Presidents' Gatekeepers, a four-hour documentary airing tonight and Thursday at 9 PM on Discovery. In the clip below, Jack Watson, who served as President Jimmy Carter's chief of staff, compares the job to that of a point guard, and then to that of a quarterback.
The metaphors jump again when the narrator says the chief of staff "is also the president's consigliere, the enforcer who makes sure the administration is focused on his agenda."
Perhaps former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was President Bill Clinton's second chief of staff, puts it best: "You've gotta be the son of a bitch who basically tells somebody what the president can't tell them."
When Barack Obama made Sonia Sotomayor the first Supreme Court pick of his presidency in 2009, court watchers knew that the relatively young, first-ever Latina justice would bring new energy to One First Street. But no one could have predicted how much she’d shake things up.
Says Tom Goldstein, a cofounder of SCOTUSblog: “She’s breaking the mold and lighting it on fire.”
With the high court wrapping up its term this month, it’s clear Sotomayor had her most exciting year in Washington yet. Here are the highlights.
• She bought a stylish pad in one of the District’s coolest neighborhoods. By trading her Cleveland Park rental for a $660,000 condo in the U Street corridor, Sotomayor solidified her standing as the hippest member of the bench. Her colleagues have settled in much more staid locales. For instance, Ruth Bader Ginsburg lives in the Watergate, and John Roberts and Antonin Scalia commute from Chevy Chase and McLean, respectively.
• While Supreme Court justices are notoriously private, Sotomayor has embraced DC nightlife. She’s been spotted at trendy restaurants such as Ardeo & Bardeo and Posto. And earlier this spring, she celebrated with chef José Andrés at the 20th-anniversary bash for his Penn Quarter eatery Jaleo.
• Thanks to the release of her memoir, My Beloved World, Sotomayor hung out with a lot of Hollywood types this year. She gave a joint book talk with actress Rita Moreno, who also has a new memoir, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall in March. She sat down with Oprah Winfrey, and she promoted her book in LA with former Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria.
• Sotomayor can tell you how to get to Sesame Street—because she made a guest appearance on the show in which she girl-talked with Muppet Abby Cadabby about becoming a doctor, engineer, or scientist instead of a princess.
• She big-timed the Vice President—sort of. When Joe Biden’s swearing-in for his second term conflicted with a Sotomayor book signing in New York, he rearranged his schedule to accommodate the justice. Biden didn’t seem to mind; he said having her administer the oath was “a wonderful honor.”
• After two days of arguments in this term’s landmark cases over the legality of same-sex marriage, Sotomayor emerged as a standout inquisitor. When she asked one of the attorneys opposing gay marriage whether he could think of any other scenario—such as refusing employment—in which a state could use sexual orientation to deny people benefits, he stammered for an answer before conceding he didn’t have one.
A version of this article appears in the June 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
With the Obama administration pushing for tighter gun control after Sandy Hook, the NRA ramped up its legislative fight, spending $830,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of 2013, compared with $725,000 during the same period last year. As it fought off the bill that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers, it hired a new lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, and parted ways with another, Dentons.
The NRA’s recently added advocate, Michael Williams, a senior director at Greenberg Traurig, was an in-house lobbyist for the NRA before joining Greenberg in 2001. He bills himself as “one of the major architects” of the NRA’s strategy to derail President Clinton’s gun-control legislation in the late ’90s. Williams has also represented Smith & Wesson since 2005, bringing in $60,000 from the gun maker last year. So far in 2013, Greenberg Traurig has made $20,000 from the NRA.
When Todd Weiss and Mathew Lapinski jumped from Dentons to Crossroads Strategies this spring, they apparently took their former firm’s NRA representation with them. Weiss and Lapinski have lobbied for the association since 2005, and the NRA paid Dentons $120,000 in 2012. The duo surely fits in at Crossroads, which has represented the NRA since the firm’s founding in 2010. It made $240,000 from the NRA last year.
This article appears in the June 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Before his January retirement, Senate minority whip Jon Kyl made no secret of his disdain for attorney general Eric Holder. He loudly opposed Holder’s decision to try terror suspects in federal courts. And amid calls from the right for Holder’s resignation in the wake of the Fast and Furious gunrunning controversy, Kyl told the Daily Caller, “There are a lot of reasons the country would be better off without Eric Holder.”
All of this is to say things could get a little awkward if Holder decides to return to Covington & Burling—where he was a star litigation partner before joining the Obama administration—because Kyl recently became a senior adviser in the firm’s lobbying practice. Kyl considered about a dozen firms—four or five seriously—before choosing Covington. Among the issues on which he plans to advise clients are national security and immigration—areas in which a former attorney general’s insight would be a huge asset.
But would Kyl have trouble collaborating with Holder if the attorney general rejoined the firm? The former senator says no. In fact, he’s already got a plan for extending an olive branch: “I’d invite him to have lunch.”
This article appears in the May 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
What’s a law firm to do when it grows so big it can’t find a suitable venue on land to host a meeting of all its partners? The 4,200-lawyer firm DLA Piper’s solution is to charter a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
The legal behemoth, which has a large Washington office among its 100-plus worldwide locations, is hosting a four-night excursion aboard the ship in May. The partners will set sail from Barcelona and head up the coast to Nice. Sure, difficulty finding a big enough hotel may have sparked the idea. But there’s also little doubt that the idea of a Mediterranean cruise sounded much more appealing than hunkering down in a Marriott conference room for a weekend.
The main purpose of the cruise is for the partners to get to know one another better and find opportunities to work together. Meetings and focus groups are scheduled throughout the trip. But there will be time for fun, too. The firm hosted a similar cruise in 2008, and social events included winetasting, mini-golf, and rock climbing.
Of course, none of this comes cheap. The firm chartered Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, which belongs to the Freedom class of ships. According to Royal Caribbean’s website, chartering a Freedom liner for four nights during peak season, March through August, costs $3.1 million—not including booze.
For that much money, here’s hoping there are no norovirus outbreaks—and, more important, that everyone brings appropriate swimwear.
This article appears in the May 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
Viewers of the Today Show this morning got a small peek into the marriage of one of Washington’s best-known power couples. Following a story examining whether women talk more than men, David Gregory, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, got a surprise phone call from his wife and super litigator, Beth Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, a partner at Paul Weiss, phoned in to bust Gregory and dispel the story’s conclusion that women are the chattier gender. She thanked Gregory’s co-hosts for “keeping our house quiet this week,” since Gregory is in New York filling in for Matt Lauer on Today. Gregory admitted that Wilkinson “often tells me to stop talking about myself.”
Though Gregory may be the more talkative one, Wilkinson’s no wallflower. And surely when it comes to arguing or negotiating, she lays down some serious verbal prowess. As one of the nation’s best regarded trial lawyers, she’s been involved in such high-profile cases as the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombers. She was also the head lawyer at Fannie Mae while the mortgage giant battled for its life in the midst of the 2007-2008 financial meltdown.
Writer, commentator, and blogger Andrew Sullivan began the new year by announcing that he planned to leave his perch at the Daily Beast and face the largely uncharted waters of a subscription website. Clearly he’s on to something, and it begins with recognizing his obvious popularity. The site, Andrewsullivan.com, doesn’t even go live until February 4, and already he’s sold $480,000 in $19.99 annual subscriptions. Sullivan says half the subscribers “gave more money than we asked for.” The site is owned by Dish Publishing LLC, a new company he founded with two partners, Patrick Appel and Chris Bodenner. When he announced the company to his Daily Beast readers, he said the trio “agreed to set out on our own with no safety net below us but you.” Sail on, Andrew.
Sometimes the guest list is what sets one party apart from all the others. That was certainly the case with the late-night inaugural soiree hosted Saturday at the Madison Hotel by six Washingtonians who have infinite connections and influence: Ann and Vernon Jordan, Buffy and Bill Cafritz, and Vicki and Roger Sant. The Jordans and Cafritzes hosted a similar party four years ago, and it was the first glimpse anyone in Washington got of the Obama inner circle, in particular presidential senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and then-Social Secretary Desirée Rogers.
With a second inauguration, that curiosity factor is gone. This time around, in a room where just about every guest was connected in one way or another, it was interesting to see actress Ashley Judd, who arrived with her friend Mark Ein. Attending this particular party was as much as saying that yes, she is serious about running for the Senate in Kentucky. So far she’s said she’s taking a look, but there were people at the party (not the least of them Jordan) who can help her get from a Hollywood acting career to a Washington political role.
There was no shortage of politicos to help power the festivities at the 2013 Green Inaugural Ball. And you know what kind of event and crowd you have collected when Bill Nye the Science Guy gets as loud a reception as Will.i.am. The environmentally conscious partygoers who packed every floor of the Newseum in search of something more meaningful than just another glass of Champagne were rewarded when Vice President Joe Biden appeared for a brief visit. He received loud ovations when he told the crowd that dealing with climate change would be a priority for the Obama administration’s second term.
Throughout the evening, conversations were just as likely to be about fighting global warming as about who made the gown someone was wearing. Those who came for the party and not the politics were not disappointed in the least. Revelers were seen taking advantage of the Newseum’s photo booths and staging their own faux news reports at the NBC News Interactive Newsroom (because nothing says reporting live from a fake hurricane like doing so in a tuxedo or a ball gown).
The journey from the lower level to the VIP suites up top was all the more enjoyable because each of the three main glass elevators featured its own bar. The signature cocktail of the evening was the OM-bama, a sweet and dangerous drink that packed a lot of flavor and punch into the mini Mason jars it was served in. The culinary offerings made a pitch to be more memorable than the celebs who took the stage. The menu was overseen by the crew from the Source, Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant within the Newseum itself. That restaurant’s signature Kobe beef sliders and sesame miso cones with Carolina yellowfin tuna tartar paired nicely with sushi rolls, butternut squash soup shooters, and a host of other passed hors d’oeuvres. Those in the main VIP lounge were treated to a delicious raw bar of sustainable seafood, courtesy of Choptank Oyster Company in Cambridge, Maryland. Piles of lobsters, crabs, clams, and oysters were on offer, and guests took a load off on custom benches made from recycled wood and the doors from pickup truck beds.
“It is the unbridled spirit that makes this event so spectacular,” said Winn F. Williams, president of the Kentucky Society of Washington. Perhaps that's why the Kentucky Bluegrass Ball was named Washington Post’s editor’s pick for the third time in a row this year.
It could also be the bourbon. With Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, and Heaven Hill (all members of the Kentucky Distiller’s Association) available, the atmosphere was lively during the cocktail hour in the Marriott Wardman Park. At 8, the 850-plus guests began trickling into the main ballroom, as the Letcher County Central High School Band, who will be marching in the inaugural parade, played “My Old Kentucky Home.” Phyllis George, former First Lady of Kentucky and Miss America, and her daughter Pamela Brown of ABC7/WJLA-TV, emceed the event and started the night out by inviting current Miss Kentucky, Jessica Casebolt, to the stage in her Kentucky-blue gown to sing the national anthem.
Chef Edward Lee, winner of Iron Chef and contestant on Top Chef, prepared the menu of Henry Bibb salad, braised and fried boneless beef short ribs, and chess pie. During the dinner, some guests were seen perusing the cocktail space for leftover bottles of bourbon, though with no luck.
Spotted among the crowd were Ashley Judd, Governor Steve Beshear, and representatives John Yarmouth, Andy Barr, Thomas Massie, and Brett Guthrie. We also got to talk with Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, who was wearing a very fetching shirt with fluer-de-lis buttons to represent his city of Louisville. He told us he doesn’t have a favorite bourbon, but he takes his with a splash of water.