First lady's relationship with Rahm 'complicated'

January 17, 2012 2:59:28 PM PST
It's ''really complicated.'' That's how the author of the new book The Obamas describes the relationship between first lady Michelle Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Author Jodi Kantor was in Chicago Tuesday giving more of a behind-the-scenes look at the nation's first couple.

What happens when two regular people move into the White House? What happened, according to Kantor, is that Barack and Michelle Obama realized that life as they knew it had drastically changed.

And, even though the first lady thought about delaying her move to Washington with their daughters, their first return trip to Chicago -- with Secret Service protection, police everywhere -- was a turning point.

"When Michelle Obama walked back into the White House, she said, 'We live in the White House now. They had to really accept that Chicago, which was kind of an escape route for them, was not that accessible to them," said Kantor.

Kantor claims there was tension between the first lady and the White House staff, including Mayor Emanuel, who was then chief of staff. The author says much of it was related to Michelle Obama's frustration with not being able to accomplish what she thought was important.

"This is not a case of Michelle Obama and Rahm Emanuel fighting in the West Wing hallway, throwing Blackberrys at each other," said Kantor. "Michelle Obama was more of the idealist who wanted her husband to take on big things, to take political risks on things like immigration and healthcare reform. Rahm Emanuel wanted to play it a little bit safer. He was very concerned about Democrats losing congressional seats, which actually did happen in the midterms."

Frustrations boiled over for White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

"People in the room said it was pretty shocking. They said he used the f-word against the first lady. She wasn't in the room," Kantor said. "The pressure these people are under is so intense."

That pressure, according to Kantor, included publicly scrutiny ranging from what outfits Michelle Obama wore, to parties thrown, all of it weighing on a first lady who Kantor believes cares intensely about what goes on in this presidency.

"She has very high hopes for the presidency, and at the times when it's not fulfilled, that's extremely frustrating to her," Kantor said.

The White House said earlier that any tension between the first lady and staff was exaggerated in the book.

Kantor says the White House cooperated with her on much of the book, and she believes the stories told are true and told in a way that the Obamas couldn't do themselves.