A tell-all book leaked over the weekend is stirring controversy due to its portrayal of the Obama White House during the financial crisis as rife with internal conflict and jockeying between economic bigwigs, including former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers.
Many of those interviewed for the book have since denied quotes and rejected the narrative’s accuracy.
The book—written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind—is called “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President.”
Though it officially goes on sale Tuesday, several news organizations received copies of the book in advance.
Citing White House documents, the book claims that Obama’s decisions were often “relitigated” by Summers, who was chairman of the National Economic Council at the time.
“The administration’s domestic policy was fast becoming a debate society run by Larry Summers,” Suskind writes.
Summers responded in a comment sent by email to Politico on Saturday, saying “the hearsay attributed to me is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context. I can’t speak to what others have told Mr. Suskind, but I have always believed that the president has led this country with determined, steady, and practical leadership in the economic area.”
In the book Suskind wrote, “Enough was enough, [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel decided ... He summoned the two competing super-egos, Summers and [budget director Peter] Orszag, and told them to make peace. After all, they were each responsible for huge swaths of the federal government. And they were fighting at every turn.”
According to the book, Summers also questioned Obama’s leadership, saying to Orszag, “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”
The book also paints a picture of the White House as a boys’ club in which women were routinely ignored or left out, although some women interviewed now deny that portrayal.
Suskind writes, “‘The president has a real woman problem’ was the assessment of another high-ranking female official. ‘The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm isn’t fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.’”
In Suskind’s book, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Christina D. Romer is quoted as saying “I felt like a piece of meat” after being excluded by Summers at a meeting.
Romer later denied that comment and said, “I can’t imagine I ever said that.”
Romer allegedly also said to Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren—now a candidate for the U.S. Senate—that she felt women were forced to assert authority in the White House work environment.
“Why is it always the women?” Romer asked, according to Suskind’s book. “Why are we the only ones with the balls around here?”
—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at email@example.com.