First lady to help promote presidential agenda

Michelle Obama

By Mark Preston, CNN Political Director

(CNN) — A bright spotlight will shine on first lady Michelle Obama Monday as inauguration watchers focus on her clothes, new hairstyle, and to what length she has gone to shield her children from the public eye.

But beyond the pomp and circumstance of the inaugural festivities, the first lady will play a role in helping to try and advance her husband’s policy goals over the next four years through a fractured Congress in a divided nation. The first sign of this came on Friday when she appeared in a video broadly explaining how the Obama for America campaign will transform into an issues advocacy organization as CNN reported earlier this month. The video was emailed to supporters Sunday afternoon with a note from the organization’s new executive director.

“We should all be proud about what we accomplished,” the first lady says in the video, referring to her husband’s November victory. “But let’s be clear. All that hard work was about more than just one election. So if we want to finish what we started and truly make that change we believe in, we can’t stop now. And that’s why today, I’m proud that our friends and supporters are launching Organizing for Action, the next phase of our movement for change.”

She told supporters they will play a major part in helping decide the direction of the new organization, an acknowledgment her husband would not have won a second term without their help, and an understanding that for the new OFA to be successful, high intensity grassroots support needed to continue.

“The relationships you made, the tools you built and the lessons you learned have already begun to change our politics, and in the coming years they can change our country,” she said. “And that’s the mission of Organizing for Action: to build on the work we’ve already done.”

And it is a mission the first lady will certainly be part of, according to a senior Democratic official involved in the planning of the new group.

There is a political advantage to have Michelle Obama assume a higher profile in what is expected to be a very difficult second term, legislatively, for the president. An overwhelming number of Americans, 73%, said they approved of the way she was handling her job as first lady, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released in December.

“She is one of the most popular people in politics and cares about the future of America,” said the Democratic source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Out on the stump, people lined up in rows just trying to get to her.”

The disadvantage is that her approval rating is likely to drop if people think she is becoming overtly political. Hillary Clinton faced similar criticism during the health care debate in her husband’s first term.

“She sort of helps him reaffirm his guiding principles,” a former administration official said in explaining the political interaction between the president and first lady. The official also would only talk on the condition of anonymity.

Jon Carson, the new OFA executive director, wrote in his Sunday email to supporters that the organization will have a two-tier set up: local and national. The local OFA chapters will decide what issues to pursue in their own communities, but these affiliates will be called upon to help the president in legislative battles with congressional Republicans.

“There’ll be times when we pull together at the national level to get President Obama’s back on passing major legislation, like reducing gun violence or immigration reform,” Carson wrote.

It is unclear what specific fights the first lady will engage. But it is likely her role will be to rally support for her husband’s legislative priorities, at the same time continuing to help shape her husband’s legacy that many people think has largely been written.

“Politically, she is absolutely a huge asset to the president,” said the Democratic source.

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