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April 29, 2013

Alyssa Mastromonaco: The White House Gatekeeper

Of the many players working behind the scenes for the president, few wield as much quiet power as Alyssa Mastromonaco, 37, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations — and the woman who sits some 15 feet away from him.

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Photo Credit: Melissa Golden

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MARIE CLAIRE: Your first real job in politics was, at age 24, working as an assistant for then Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. What were you doing for him?

ALYSSA MASTROMONACO: I answered the phones. I did the press clips back when clips were real clips—I had to cut them out, tape them to a piece of paper, and then fax them to all the state offices.

MC: You were director of scheduling for Kerry's failed presidential bid in 2004. What's it like to lose a presidential race?

AM: It's incredibly sad. You invest so much, and then have to deal with the disappointment when you're just completely exhausted. It takes a while to bounce back from it. In that case, I had to stay on to do the wind-down—putting binders in boxes and whatnot.

MC: How did you come to work for President Barack Obama?

AM: I was in the Kerry offices right after the campaign ended, and my instant messenger window popped up. It was [future White House press secretary] Robert Gibbs. He said, "You should come meet this guy Barack Obama, who I'm working for now." And so I went in a week later and met with [Obama's chief of staff in the Senate] Pete Rouse, followed by POTUS [an Illinois senator at the time]. I've worked for him since January 2005.

MC: As deputy chief of staff for operations, what do you do exactly?

AM: I oversee the actual planning and setup of presidential events. I also oversee presidential personnel—the hiring process for all political appointments in the executive branch—as well as screen nominees for Cabinet positions. I handle Oval Office operations and anything having to do with the White House campus itself. It's my job to coordinate among the Secret Service, first family, and the White House Military Office, which includes Air Force One and Marine One, to make sure everything runs smoothly.

MC: What are your hours like?

AM: We get in every morning between 7 and 7:30, and I'm usually here until about 8 p.m. But it ebbs and flows. Last night at midnight we got a phone call about seismic activity in North Korea. You're always sort of on 24/7.

MC: What's the president like as a boss?

AM: One of the hardest transitions was calling him Mr. President. He's just not one for titles. When I started in his Senate office, I always called him Senator Obama. And one day he asked, "Are you angry with me? Why do you keep calling me Senator Obama? I'm Barack. In front of other people, you can call me Senator, but around here, please just call me Barack." But I've never called him anything but Mr. President since he was sworn in.


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