First lady Michelle Obama is a behind-the-scenes force in the White House whose opinions on policy and politics drew her into conflict with presidential advisers and who bristled at some of the demands and constraints of life as the president's wife, according to a detailed account of the first couple's relationship.
New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, in a book to be published Tuesday, portrays a White House where tensions developed between Mrs. Obama and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and former press secretary and presidential adviser Robert Gibbs.
The Times posted a 3,300-word adaption of the book, "The Obamas," on its website Friday. The accounts are based on interviews with 30 current and former aides, though President Barack Obama and the first lady declined to be interviewed for the book.
The Times adaptation of the book portrays Mrs. Obama as having gone through an evolution from struggle to fulfillment in her role at the White House, but all the while an "unrecognized force" in pursuing the president's goals.
She is seen publicly as the friendly and popular face of the softer side of the White House, the one reading to school kids or promoting exercise as a means to reduce child obesity.
According to Kantor, early in 2010 as the president's health care agenda seemed in danger of collapsing, Mrs. Obama let it be known she was annoyed by how the White House was handling the strategy. After media reports indicated Emanuel was unhappy pursuing the health care overhaul, Emanuel offered to resign, Kantor wrote. The president declined the offer.
By that spring, however, Kantor writes that Mrs. Obama "made it clear that she thought her husband needed a new team, according to her aides."
Among the most provocative anecdotes, Kantor recounts a scene in which Gibbs, frustrated after tamping down a potential public relations crisis involving the first lady, exploded when presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett told him the first lady had concerns about the White House response to the flap. The initial commotion had been over an alleged remark by Michelle Obama to French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that living in the White House was "hell."
Gibbs cursed the first lady, who was absent. Kantor writes that Gibbs later said his anger was misplaced and that he blamed Jarrett for creating the confrontation.
The White House had a cold reaction to the book, calling it an "over-dramatization of old news" and emphasizing that the first couple did not speak to the author, who last interviewed them for a magazine piece in 2009.
"The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the president and first lady, reflect little more than the author's own thoughts," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. "These secondhand accounts are staples of every administration in modern political history and often exaggerated."
Other revelations in the book:
_ Mrs. Obama initially chafed at life in the White House and for a short period before the inauguration had even mulled staying in Chicago in 2009 at least until the two Obama daughters completed their school session.
_ As the first African-American first lady, Mrs. Obama wanted to make sure that when it came to White House decor and entertainment she wanted to display sophistication, creating anxiety with Obama advisers who wanted to make sure the White House did not appear to have a tin ear to the nation's struggling economy.
_ Despite reticence in 2010 to campaign during the mid-term elections, Mrs. Obama is now "an increasingly canny political player eager to pour her popularity