The East Wing is pleased with the launch of First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign against childhood obesity. Mrs. Obama got tons of positive publicity, and if Congress is going to tangle with her over legislative elements, it has not happened yet.
In another milestone, Mrs. Obama will do her first Fox News interview, on the friendly territory of Mike Huckabee's show, to discuss the epidemic of childhood obesity. Huckabee -- who shed more than 100 pounds in 2003-04 while he was Arkansas governor and before his 2008 presidential drive -- already published an op-ed generally supportive of Mrs. Obama's goals. The interview with Mrs. Obama will be on Huckabee's Saturday show.
Part of the credit for the smooth lift-off for Mrs. Obama's signature issue -- her first real assignment in the Obama White House -- goes to a new, temporary East Wing hire, Stephanie Cutter. Cutter's last White House assignment was helping steer Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor through the Senate confirmation process. Cutter is the most seasoned strategist in Mrs. Obama's East Wing circle.
Mrs. Obama's chief of staff, Susan Sher, said Cutter was hired for the obesity initiative because "We needed someone to focus on just this for us. She's almost like a COO of the whole project," Sher told me in a phone interview. Mrs. Obama kicked off the drive in the White House on Feb. 9, with President Obama signing an executive order that morning calling for a task force to get back to him with a plan in 90 days.
"I thought was a very successful launch," Sher told me. "And now, obviously, we are not done; it is only the beginning, but I felt we had a pretty substantive launch that she helped us put together." Mrs. Obama's program -- dubbed "Let's Move" -- has a variety of pieces: Cutter worked with the teams dealing with outside foundations, the medical community, the East and West Wings' domestic policy shops and other entities. Cutter, whose contract runs for four or five months, "helped to bring it all together and keep it focused," Sher said.
Mrs. Obama met with her staff on Tuesday to go over the launch and discuss upcoming events. On Friday, Mrs. Obama hits Philadelphia to highlight one pillar of the program: access to healthy, affordable food. Mrs. Obama will be joined on the day trip by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. They will make local stops to showcase the widespread problem of "food deserts" and the steps Philadelphia has taken to get healthy, affordable food to its communities. The day includes an event at the Fairhill Elementary School.
On Saturday, Mrs. Obama delivers a speech to the National Governors Association's annual meeting in Washington. She will, according to the East Wing, "outline the ways state governments can play a leadership role in achieving the goals of Let's Move." Last month, Mrs. Obama gave a talk to the U.S. Conference of Mayors on best practices of cities when it comes to keeping healthy.
Cutter is a familiar figure to Mrs. Obama and her crew. In June 2008, she was brought into the Obama campaign with two titles: Senior Adviser to the Campaign and Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama. Cutter went on to become the chief spokesman for the Obama-Biden transition operation. Her first job in the Obama White House was in the Treasury Department; a few months later she jumped over to Sotomayor.
Cutter's political roots are with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.); she was communications director for John Kerry's presidential campaign and served years in the Clinton White House. Last fall, she was a fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government. There, she led a study group on crisis management.
Wrote Cutter in her course outline: "If managed effectively, a political crisis can be little more than a bump in the road of a long career. But if bungled, a political scandal or a crisis of confidence can turn an election and impact history, rob a public servant of his ability to govern, and even end a career. The goal of this study group is to study the evolution and management of key political crises historically and in the context of the frenetic 24/7 modern media environment."
POSTSCRIPT: A July column I wrote with a list of Mrs. Obama' staff and their salaries continues to generate interest and has gotten a life of its own in the blogosphere. I don't know how much Cutter's consulting company is being paid; I'm told that information will be released in July. Anticipating the matter of Mrs. Obama staffing would come up with some readers, I asked Sher about the temporary addition of Cutter, and this is what she told me:
"We have the exact same number of people that Laura Bush had on our staff." Cutter was hired because the First Lady's "singular initiative" had "so many components to it, (and) we felt to help get it started, we could use some outside help just for a few months, and that's what we did."