Madam president, p.4

Madam President, page 4

 

Madam President
 



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  “Honest answer?”

  “Always.”

  “I’m terrified.”

  “Why?”

  “Because when they look at you, they see their only son as one of the most respected people in all of Washington, D.C. The president of the United States has you on speed dial. And then they’ll look over at me and see one of those career-obsessed New York women who freeze their eggs and spend too much money on shoes.”

  Warren smiled at her adoringly and rubbed one of her shoulders. “They are going to love you. And I promise you that my mother doesn’t even know they sell shoes that cost six hundred dollars.”

  “She’s going to hate me.”

  “I’m worried that you’re going to be too tired for dinner after chasing the CBS crews around all day.”

  “I’ll be fine tomorrow. But I’m feeling stressed about being out tonight. I should be in bed.”

  Warren stood up right away. “I’ll go thank them for sending over the food and tell them we’ll come back this weekend.”

  “We just got here.”

  “It was a bad idea.”

  “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

  “Of course not. Let’s get you home.”

  Dale watched the other women in the restaurant stare at Warren as he walked to the bar. He was way too good-looking for Washington, D.C. He was oblivious, but people noticed him wherever he went. If he were four inches shorter, he’d be mistaken for an actor, and if he were two inches taller, he’d be mistaken for an NFL quarterback. At five-foot-ten, he was simply the most attractive political consultant in town. He possessed a politician’s magnetism and a rare ability to remember everyone’s name and exactly what he’d discussed with them the last time he’d seen them. There were few people Dale had ever met in her life who were as good-natured and outgoing as Warren. Dale felt positively brooding and antisocial by comparison. She couldn’t recall a single instance in which she’d ever seen him down or unhappy in the six months that they’d been dating. The only thing wrong with him was that he liked her too much.

  She was relieved when Warren turned back toward their table. She let him pull her through the crowd and out to where his car was waiting.

  “I’m sorry about that.”

  “I didn’t realize how nervous I am.”

  “Tomorrow is going to be perfect.”

  He closed her door and then walked around to his side. She glanced at him as he buckled his seat belt.

  “What?”

  “Nothing.” She smiled.

  “What’s that look?”

  “It’s not a look. I’m trying to figure out if you have any idea how hot-to-trot all those little Hill staffers are for you and if you drag me to places like this because you secretly enjoy showing them you’re taken.”

  Warren laughed a big belly laugh.

  “What’s so funny?” Dale asked.

  “I dragged you there because I get a good table and free snacks. But that’s not nearly as funny as you are.”

  “What exactly did I say that you find so funny?”

  “I didn’t know you considered me taken.”

  She looked out the window so he wouldn’t see her smile. His exuberance for her was disquieting, and his willingness to declare his affection for her in public was such a dramatic change from her illicit relationship with Peter that she still found herself pulling her hand away from his when he reached for it and turning her face from him when he went to kiss her in public. He either didn’t notice or wasn’t insulted, because he never pouted or acted like she’d committed a relationship foul. And while he was the sunniest person she’d ever slept with, he wasn’t sweet in a sappy or codependent way. He was, by a mile, the most normal, eligible, emotionally available man Dale had ever dated.

  Warren was a very sought-after and skilled consultant, but it hadn’t been his plan to have the president’s ear. He’d started advising politicians on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after returning from four combat tours in Iraq. Warren had been a student at Harvard Business School on September 11. When life there returned to normal before the Twin Towers had even stopped smoldering, he’d decided that he didn’t belong at Harvard anymore. He enlisted in the Army and attended Ranger school and also learned how to fly helicopters, which he did quite skillfully. Warren returned from Iraq determined to squeeze every dime he could out of Congress to help his fellow soldiers struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and depression. His political skills turned out to be even better than his piloting skills. The Republican campaign committees urged him to run for Congress, but the idea did not appeal to him. He would only be one vote. He could make a bigger difference by changing the minds—and votes—of the hundreds of politicians who already held office.

  After the six candidates he advised in the midterm elections all won their races, his services were in demand. Charlotte called soon after the midterms and asked him to advise her reelection campaign. He was credited with masterminding her surprise comeback during her reelection bid, and he’d been her most trusted outside advisor ever since.

  Dale had met him at an East Room event at the White House. He’d brought a candidate for the Wisconsin governor’s race to an education speech about the power of charter schools. Dale had asked him to move his chair to get out of the camera shot, and he’d feigned offense. She’d been so mortified about insulting one of the guests that she’d offered him a personal White House tour. After mumbling her way through the China Room and the Map Room, she confessed to Warren that she didn’t know anything about the history of the East Wing rooms. Warren then confessed to her that he was a consultant who’d worked as an outside advisor to the president for two years and had spent the night in the residence as a guest of the first family. She was so embarrassed that she didn’t know who he was and relieved that she hadn’t offended an official “guest” that she’d agreed to have a drink with him that night. Dale found him entertaining enough to stay for dinner, and they’d gone home together. Their relationship had consisted almost purely of late-night dates at the bars within walking distance of the White House and sleepovers at her place so that she could get up at four A.M. to get ready for work. They had had their coming out as a Washington power couple when they’d attended the White House Correspondents Dinner in April. It was a designation that may have once meant that two people with power and influence had ended up together. Now it simply meant that two people with occasion to be on television regularly were an item.

  Dale enjoyed having someone to take to the countless black-tie events on her schedule, and she loved that he came home with her every night, but she wasn’t sure that she could picture herself on the marriage-and-kids track that Warren obviously craved. Dale cared about Warren more than she’d ever cared about anyone, other than Peter, but she never again wanted to experience the heartbreak she’d experienced when her relationship with Peter had come to an abrupt end. Without directly rebuffing Warren’s frequent references to a future together, she was careful to keep the focus on how much she was enjoying his company in the moment. Dale was afraid that she’d live to regret agreeing to have dinner with his parents, but they were in town for one night, and he’d begged her to join them.

  They pulled up outside the Ritz on 23rd Street, where Dale had purchased a two-bedroom condo when she was named press secretary.

  “Do you want to come up?” she asked. She knew he did, but she appreciated that he still waited to be invited.

  “Are you sure you’re in the mood for company?”

  She leaned over and kissed him in a way that left no doubt.

  As they rode up on the elevator together, Dale wondered if she could ever get used to being adored by someone who was smart and attractive and who never made her feel emotionally inadequate. It wasn’t like he didn’t know about her sordid past. In fact, Dale couldn’t be sure that Warren hadn’t been involved in Charlotte’s decision to go public with the revelation that her husband was having an affair
with her two years earlier. While Dale knew that Charlotte hadn’t considered the circumstance of her husband’s affair ideal by any measure, it was undeniable that she’d enhanced her reputation by standing before the public and accepting part of the blame for the decline of her marriage. It was the first of many displays of generosity toward Dale on the president’s part.

  Immediately following her reelection, Charlotte had allowed Dale to serve on the White House staff as a senior advisor to her then vice president, Tara Meyers. Dale suspected that Charlotte shared her own knack for extreme compartmentalization, but whatever the reason, Charlotte had enabled Dale to have a second act as a White House advisor at a time when she would have had a hard time finding a position as a newswoman. Dale had loved covering the White House, but once her affair with the president’s husband was made public, her credibility as a journalist was shattered. Dale was astounded by how quickly she had adapted to life inside the presidential bubble. It was as though she’d never stood on the other side of the reporter-versus-government-official divide. After a tumultuous year as the vice president’s counselor, during which Dale and Charlotte had occasion to collaborate on a variety of sensitive topics, Charlotte tapped her to serve as the White House press secretary.

  It had further cemented the end of that chapter in Dale’s life when the president and Peter had publicly reconciled. To survive the spectacle of the first couple’s renewed affection for each other, Dale threw herself into her new job. Serving as the White House press secretary had renewed her in surprising ways, and Warren’s attention had also eased the pain of her very public breakup with one of the most well-known married men in the world.

  Now it felt to Dale as though her life had changed dramatically in a very short period of time. She’d gone from a network correspondent who covered the White House and was engaged in a clandestine love affair with the president’s estranged husband to the White House press secretary in the span of a few short years. In Washington, time moved in dog years. Seven years of chaos and drama could be crammed into one. As far as Washington’s ruling class was concerned, Dale’s affair with Peter was ancient history. If Charlotte could forgive her and promote her to press secretary, then surely they could welcome her to their cocktail parties and Georgetown dinners.

  “Do you want a glass of wine?” Warren asked.

  “Sure. I’m going to change. Bring it into the bedroom when you come in.”

  Dale sat on the edge of the bed and scrolled through her e-mail messages. Everything was on track for the next day. She sent a message to her deputy, who would be at the White House when the senior staff started arriving with their embedded CBS crews in the early-morning hours. Dale would be driving in with a crew herself.

  She still couldn’t believe that Charlotte had agreed to participate in the “Day in the Life” and that she’d done so with minimal prodding. The network had assigned camera crews to all of the senior staff and the president and vice president. The idea was for the crews to follow each of them through an “ordinary” day in the West Wing. Crews would also be stationed in the president’s private kitchen, in the White House Mess where the senior staff ate most of their meals, and at all of the executive assistants’ desks to get a sense of the volume of incoming calls, visitors, and problems that the White House staff managed on a daily basis. Dale had even persuaded the Secret Service to participate in the filming. A film crew would be stationed at the Northwest Gate, where the majority of visitors to the White House entered. An additional crew would be embedded at its command post.

  The final production would air on 60 Minutes on two consecutive Sundays and would be teased each morning on the network’s morning show and each night on the evening news, guaranteeing maximum exposure. It was part of a broader publicity plan designed to pull back the curtain on the president’s second term. It was also designed to showcase the chemistry between the president and vice president, Maureen McCoughlin. Maureen was the former Democratic speaker of the House, and she deserved much of the credit for helping Charlotte regain her political footing so quickly after her predecessor crashed and burned.

  Dale believed that part of the reason Charlotte had backed her for the top press job was for her understanding of the need for unprecedented access and transparency in the wake of Tara’s brief stint as vice president. Dale had also developed a keen sense of the president’s voice on matters large and small. And the president had noticed. She deferred to Dale completely on matters involving White House press strategy. It had further strengthened Dale’s hand that Craig, her closest friend in Washington, had ascended to the White House chief of staff position. The post was the single most powerful appointment in all of Washington, aside from the president herself.

  Dale plugged her BlackBerry, iPhone, and iPad into chargers next to her nightstand while she contemplated half an Ambien.

  “Are you still working?” Warren asked.

  “I probably should be.”

  Warren put the two wineglasses on the nightstand and sat down on the bed. “What’s wrong?”

  “What if the president hates Lucy and Richard?”

  “Who cares if she hates them? She’s a big girl, and she understands why you picked them. Relax. It’s going to be great.”

  “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

  “Maybe. But it happens to be the truth.”

  He smiled his irresistible smile, and Dale relaxed. When he leaned over to kiss her, she let him. His enthusiasm for her was limitless. While the world saw him as a perfectly well-adjusted and emotionally and physically unscathed veteran of the war in Iraq, Dale understood that there was no such thing. According to Warren, they all came back altered. His escape was sex, and for the time being, Dale was content to be his therapy. The bedroom was the one place where she felt she could give him everything he needed from her. She stole a sideways glance at her iPhone to check the time and then quickly forgot about alarm clocks, line-by-lines, on-the-record versus off-the-record interviews, briefing books, staff meetings, speech excerpts, protests, and reporters’ complaints.

  CHAPTER SIX

  Charlotte

  This is the shot you should have let them get for your CBS taping,” Peter said.

  Charlotte looked up from the speech text that she was marking with a thick black Sharpie. Her three vizslas were strewn across the bed with them. Cammie, the oldest, was lying between Charlotte’s legs, with her head on her thigh and one eye open to keep watch over her mistress. The other two were in various states of undignified repose on the bed. Peter was watching a baseball game and editing a contract for one of his clients. He still worked as a sports agent and represented some of the biggest athletes in professional basketball and football. Charlotte thought he was genius in terms of always keeping his business smaller than the demand for his services. Athletes typically came to him and asked him to consider adding them to his small and exclusive list of clients, instead of the other way around.

  “How’s the speech?”

  “It’s not as bad as it looks.”

  “That’s a relief. Aren’t you delivering it first thing in the morning?”

  “Eleven.” Charlotte handed Cammie a piece of her grilled cheese sandwich.

  “Do you feel good about it?”

  “I feel fine about it. Maureen has been incredible, and this was one of her conditions for getting the tax cuts and the defense-spending bills passed with Democratic votes. It’s a tiny thing to do for her after all the stability she’s brought to this place.”

  Peter nodded. “You don’t have to convince me, honey, but it sounds like you’re still convincing yourself.”

  “Maybe,” Charlotte murmured without looking up.

  “Look, if you’re having doubts, you should call Warren. He always puts you at ease about these things.”

  “I spoke to him before I left the Oval Office.”

  “Is he worried?”

  “Of course not. Says that women will appreciate someone
other than a white man talking about the issue, regardless of their position.”

  “That sounds like good advice.”

  “I guess.”

  “Call him again if you’re still anxious.”

  “He has better things to do than talk me off the ledge.”

  “I doubt that.”

  Charlotte reached for the phone and asked the White House operator to try Warren’s cell. When he didn’t pick up, she hung up and refused the operator’s offer to keep trying.

  “I’m sure he’ll call you back,” Peter assured her.

  Charlotte nodded and lifted the speech closer to her face.

  “Did Brooke and Mark schedule their visit for this week in hopes of landing cameos in your ‘Day in the Life’?” Peter asked.

  At this, Charlotte laughed. She’d sent Brooke and Mark off to the Kennedy Center to see a Sondheim play so they wouldn’t bother her. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.”

  “Thank you for sparing me from participating in your big production.”

  “You have Dale to thank for that. I didn’t even see a request for any filming of us together.”

  Peter raised an eyebrow and smiled at his wife of twenty years. “That was nice of her.”

  “I suppose.”

  “What else does a day in the life of the most powerful woman in the world entail?”

  “You mean my made-for-television day?”

  “Yes, your perfectly presidential made-for-television day.”

  “There’s this speech, which I’ll deliver at the Women’s Museum.”

  “That’s what the protest is about out front?”

  “Yes.” Charlotte sighed. “Warren warned me that it will cost me any remnant of support I had with the base, but I can’t expect Maureen to go along with my agenda without doing these sorts of things.”

  “Look on the bright side, Char. You might even turn your daughter into a supporter. You know, she wanted to march on the mall with NARAL last year on the anniversary of Roe. I convinced her that she’d hurt her cause by overshadowing the march with coverage of her participation.”

 

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