Obama’s post-presidential life beginning to take shape

Outgoing President Barack Obama has lined up a new office and is starting to build a staff as he gets ready to join an exclusive club as the fifth living former president.

For months, Obama has made small talk about his future plans, typically describing a trip to the beach and a drink served in a coconut.

“What he’s focusing (on) right now is taking his wife on a lovely vacation — much-earned vacation — and spending some time with (his wife, Michelle) and beginning the hard work of standing up the Obama Center,” Valerie Jarrett, a top aide, said last week.

Obama will be the first former president to remain in Washington since Woodrow Wilson in 1921. The Obamas plan to stay in the capital until daughter Sasha, 15, finishes high school in 2019.

He’ll have a new office in the building that houses the World Wildlife Federation, not far from the White House and also near the Obamas’ future home in the tony Kalorama neighborhood. A five-year lease has been signed, the Government Services Administration said.

He also has hired a chief of staff to help him launch his post-presidential endeavors. He didn’t have to look far, choosing Anita Decker Breckenridge, 38, an aide since he was an Illinois state legislator in 2003 exploring a U.S. Senate run.

Jarrett and White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Obama will work to ensure Americans have access to affordable health care, tackle the issue of gerrymandering and speak out on behalf of so-called Dreamers, who are the offspring of unauthorized immigrants brought here as children.

He plans to be a mentor for the next generation of Democratic leaders while keeping open a line of communication with his Republican successor, Donald Trump, Jarrett said. He also figures to be busy preparing for the 2021 opening of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, Ill.

After Friday’s inauguration, Barack and Michelle Obama are to leave the Capitol by helicopter for a departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, said Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Blyth, a spokesman for the joint task force overseeing the military’s participation in Trump’s inauguration.

The Obamas will board Air Force One, but the plane’s call sign will be re-designated since he will no longer be commander in chief, Blyth said. The White House confirmed Tuesday that the Obamas will travel to Palm Springs, Calif., on Friday following Trump’s inauguration.

The White House did not offer additional details about the Obamas’ plans once they arrive.

It’s expected that both Barack and Michelle Obama will write memoirs. The All American Speakers Bureau, a booking agency, already lists both the president and first lady on its website as available for speaking gigs.

The other living presidents — George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — all took divergent paths after leaving office.

Carter wrote books, monitored elections overseas, fought disease in Africa, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and kept up his ministry. The elder Bush partnered with Bill Clinton on humanitarian causes, such as Hurricane Katrina relief. The younger Bush, who has kept a lower profile, took to painting. Clinton hit the lecture circuit, raised money for his family’s foundation and campaigned for his wife’s two unsuccessful White House runs.

James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said many doors will open for the 55-year-old ex-president.

“He’s young, he’s healthy, he’s smart, he’s charismatic and he wants to improve our democracy and help the world, so there’s a variety of things that he can do,” said Thurber, who lives not far from Obama’s future home.

At Obama’s side will be Breckenridge, who once interned for Sen. Dick Durbin and worked for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Now White House deputy chief of staff, Breckenridge has been a key player in the transition to the next administration since early 2016. In an interview, she said she has committed to her future job for a year but may stay for six years. She said more will emerge by the end of this year about the causes Obama’s Chicago-based foundation will take up.

“The beauty, maybe for lack of a better word, of becoming a former president is he’s going to take some time to figure out” what’s next, she said. “He can’t do it all, right?”

Tina Tchen, who worked for eight years in the White House, mostly as Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, said last week the toughest part of the job has been managing the many requests for the first lady’s time. The deluge of invitations is not likely to let up after the Obamas leave the White House, said Anita McBride, who was chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush and is now an executive-in-residence at the center Thurber leads at American University.

“There will be plenty of invitations coming in asking her (Michelle Obama) to support a cause or attend an event or lend her name,” she said. “A lot of that interest in her imprimatur still exists.”

Tchen in February will give a speech in London. She said during the spring she’ll return to Chicago, where she had been a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm, and begin a job hunt.

Michelle Obama’s top crusades will live through their non-profit partners, Tchen said. The key initiatives were “Let’s Move,” “Joining Forces,” “Reach Higher” and “Let Girls Learn.”

McBride, who has worked for three Republican presidents, knows the final days in the White House are exhilarating and bittersweet. Photos come down. Badges and phones are turned in. Close-knit aides disperse.

Former aides to George W. Bush have helped smooth the Obamas’ move out of the White House just as they eased their arrival in 2009, Breckenridge said.

“The fraternity gets quite small, quite fast, of folks that have ever taken a president outside of the White House and set them back up into normal life,” she said.

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