At the hour of dawn, in the same southwest-corner, second-floor bedroom of the White House where Abraham Lincoln once slept, the president awakens. On this spring morning, a Wednesday, Barack Obama is alone; his wife, Michelle, is on her way to Mexico City on her first solo foreign trip. He heads upstairs for 45 minutes of weights and cardio in his personal gym, then puts on a dark suit and navy-blue pin-striped tie.
When Obama arrives in the office this morning, just before 9:30, the first item on his agenda, as always, is a meeting with his chief of staff for a quick rundown of the coming day: “three minutes, four minutes, five minutes—whatever it takes, but you’ve got to make it quick,” Rahm Emanuel says. On its face, the imbalance between time and task is absurd: three, four, five minutes, to sum up the world. Emanuel himself has been up since 5:15, and in his office since before 7:30, when he holds his first meeting with the rest of the senior staff, followed by a second one with the “expanded” staff and the legislative liaisons.
On this Wednesday, Obama is dealing with the aftermath of a West Virginia coal-mine tragedy, with a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and with the prospect of a new law in Arizona that will give local law-enforcement officers the right to demand identification from anyone they happen to think may be in the country illegally. He is confronting a shortage of disaster-relief funds at the Federal Emergency Management Agency—this, days before the oil-rig catastrophe occurs in the Gulf of Mexico—and later this morning, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. will testify before Congress about the administration’s latest plans for trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 conspirators. Also today, the president will nominate a federal appeals-court judge, seven United States attorneys, and six federal marshals, and he will present Garth Brooks with a special “Grammys on the Hill” award for promoting the intellectual property rights of musicians. Tomorrow, Thursday, he will announce a new strategy for the space program; express condolences on the passing of the civil-rights leader Dr. Benjamin Hooks; order hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid not to deny visitation rights on the basis of sexual orientation; release joint income-tax returns showing earnings with Michelle of $5.5 million (most of it from his best-selling books); and travel to Florida for two evening fund-raisers on behalf of the Democratic National Committee.
Who the heck would even want this darn job?