A new book claims that President Obama’s response to the economic crisis was hampered by a White House economic staff plagued by internal rivalries, a domineering chief adviser and a Treasury secretary who dragged his feet on enforcing decisions with which he disagreed.
The book, by Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, quotes White House documents that say Mr. Obama’s decisions were routinely “re-litigated” by the chairman of the National Economic Council, Lawrence H. Summers. Some decisions, including one to overhaul the debt-ridden Citibank, were carried out sluggishly or not at all by a resistant Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, according to the book.
Mr. Suskind quotes from two memos for the president in which Pete Rouse, a senior White House aide, wrote, “There is deep dissatisfaction within the economic teamwith what is perceived as Larry’s imperious and heavy-handed direction of the economic policy process.”
A copy of the book, “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” published by HarperCollins, was obtained by The New York Times before it officially goes on sale on Tuesday. The White House declined to comment on Mr. Suskind’s account, which he said was based on interviews with more than 200 people, including the president.
The book offers a portrait of a White House operating under intense pressure as it dealt with a cascade of crises, from insolvent banks to collapsing carmakers. And it details the rivalries among figures around the president, including Mr. Summers; Mr. Geithner; the former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel; and the budget director, Peter R. Orszag.
In this rough-and-tumble environment, the book reports, female staff members often felt bruised. At a dinner with Mr. Obama in November 2009, several top female aides—including Anita Dunn, who was the communications director, and Christina Romer, the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers—told the president about being talked over in meetings by male colleagues or cut out altogether.
Ms. Romer, the book says, once passed a note to Mr. Summers threatening to walk out of a dinner with Mr. Obama and outside economists after the president polled his guests for their recommendations but failed to recognize her.
“It was lighthearted. It was not me threatening to walk,” Ms. Romer said in an interview from Berkeley, Calif., where she is a professor at the University of California. “My God, who would walk out on the president?”
Mr. Summers, who has returned to a teaching position at Harvard, did not comment.
In the book, Mr. Geithner denies that he obstructed any presidential directive. A senior Treasury official said a government restructuring of Citibank would have occurred only if the Treasury had been left with a significant ownership stake in the bank after it emerged from a financial stress test.
The book claims that Mr. Obama pushed out two of his closest aides, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, and David Axelrod, his senior adviser, earlier than planned in a housecleaning after the midterm elections.
Mr. Axelrod said he had long planned to leave the administration after two years. “I had an ironclad agreement with my wife that I would do two years, and everyone knew it,” he said. Mr. Gibbs said he had contacted Robert Barnett, a Washington lawyer who helps public officials land private-sector jobs, in October to begin planning his future since he intended to leave the White House early in 2011.