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April 29, 2013

Alyssa Mastromonaco: The White House Gatekeeper


Photo Credit: Melissa Golden

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MC: I imagine that overseeing White House personnel means that people are constantly hitting you up for jobs.

AM: It's why you'll almost never see me out. It can be exhausting. But at the same time, around here, there's always an open-door policy. I've done more career counseling than you could possibly imagine. It's important to do—you'd be surprised by the very bad career decisions people are inclined to make for an extra $7,000 in salary.

MC: What have you learned coming up through the staffer ranks?

AM: Always, always be nice. People remember. When I was in college at the University of Vermont, I answered phones in Congressman Bernie Sanders' office. I ended up having a conversation with a man who called from Wisconsin. I tried to be very polite. That fall, after I transferred to the University of Wisconsin, that man gave me a job as an assistant at his nonprofit. He said it was because I was so nice on the phone.

MC: What's been your biggest screwup?

AM: It was 2006, and President Obama, then a senator, was doing about 50 stops to stump for candidates in the midterm elections. He was in Denver, en route to San Francisco, when our finance director called me and said, "The plane's not here." I had reserved a $30,000 private plane for the wrong day.

MC: How did you handle that?

AM: I broke into tears. Rouse heard that I was crying and called Obama to tell him that I was having a meltdown. Then my phone rang—back then he had a cell phone number that came up "Barack Obama"—and I was like, Shit! So I picked up the phone, and I'm like [tearfully], "Hello?" And he said, "I hear that there are some tears at the office—I don't know why because I'm in a first-class seat on a United flight to San Francisco, and we're going to be there in no time." But I can tell you, I took it as a onetime reprieve. I try to never fuck up like that again.

MC: What do you make of criticism leveled at the White House about the lack of women in powerful staff positions?

AM: People on the outside tend to view only those who go on television as influential or important. [White House Counsel] Kathy Ruemmler does not do television. But there are few people in the building more powerful than her.

MC: You're engaged to David Krone, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's chief of staff. Where do you find the time to plan a wedding?

AM: We got engaged on a Thursday night, and by the next afternoon I left for Hawaii for work [for the president's annual vacation], but David had to stay back here to work on the fiscal cliff negotiations. I was like, "I can't do this, I can't do this." Everyone thinks I'm a good planner, but there's a decent chance I may not have a wedding. I'll just go to the courthouse or something. It's too much pressure.

MC: Really?

AM: Or it could be a D.C. circus—three rings, no tent, with everyone and their brother invited.

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