Published September 17, 2011
The Obama White House is a “hostile” environment for women even though they occupy many of the senior positions in the West Wing, according to a new book.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind interviewed more than 200 people, including President Obama, for "Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and The Education of A President," which will be released Sept. 20.
The book portrays a White House in which Obama struggled with a divided group of advisers, some of whom he didn't initially consider for their high-profile roles. And top female advisers said they felt left out of key meetings or overpowered by their male counterparts.
“This place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” former White House communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying, according to the Washington Post, which obtained a copy. “Because it actually fits all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”
Dunn told the newspaper in an interview on Friday that she told Suskind “point blank” that the White House “was not a hostile environment.”
“The president is someone who when he goes home at night he goes home to a house full of very strong women,” she said. “He values having strong women around him.”
But a top female official blamed Obama for leading a boys’ club.
“The president has a real woman problem. The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm isn’t fair,” she told Suskind, referring to former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers, former chairman of the National Economic Council. Obama “was just as responsible himself.”
Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic advisers, described one meeting for Suskind in which she was “boxed out” by Summers, the Washington Post reported.
“I felt like a piece of meat,” she said.
The book also offers accounts of disagreement among advisers over how large a stimulus was necessary to revive the economy and how aggressively to deal with financial institutions that had become "too big to fail."
Summers is quoted as lamenting that he and others felt "home alone" and that mistakes made under Obama would not have happened under President Clinton, for whom Summers also served. Interviewed by Suskind, Summers initially denied making such comments, then acknowledged them, saying he was frustrated at having "five issues" of major importance to deal with at once and not "five times as many" officials to handle them.
The book also states Geithner and the Treasury Department ignored a March 2009 order to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup while continuing stress tests on banks, which were burdened with toxic mortgage assets.
Geithner says in the book that he did not recall that Obama was mad at him about the Citigroup decision and rejected allegations contained in White House documents that his department had been slow to enact the president's plans.
"I don't slow walk the president on anything," Geithner told Suskind.
"The Citbank incident, and others like it, reflected a more pernicious and personal dilemma emerging from inside the administration: that the young president's authority was being systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers," Suskind writes.
The book also says Emanuel was not the president's first choice for the position. According to Suskind, Emanuel's name was not even on the initial short list, which included White House aide Pete Rouse.
The White House is downplaying the information in the book.
“Books like these tend to take the normal day to day activities of governing and infuse them with drama, palace intrigue and salacious details based on anonymous accounts,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to Fox News.
“The truth is simply and well known: President Obama and his economic team walked into office during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and took bold, decisive action that prevented the collapse of the financial system, saving millions of jobs and putting the economy back in a place where it is creating jobs and growing again,” he said.
“The president made very tough decisions in the most difficult of circumstances and his team executed those decisions faithfully and tirelessly,” he added.
An investigative reporter, Suskind won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 while working for the Wall Street Journal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.