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Issue 422 -- Feb. 27- Mar 05, 2010
White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers Steps Down
By Karen Travers and Jake Tapper
Washington DC, February 27, 2010 – White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers is stepping down from her position 14 months into her tenure as the Obama administration staff member responsible for opening up the White House and shaping the Obama brand.
Last November, Rogers came under fire over protocol procedures after two wannabe reality TV stars crashed the first White House state dinner of the Obama administration, an event to honor of the prime minister of India.
The incident brought negative attention to the White House and to Rogers, and overshadowed the Obamas' first large scale event at the White House. There were questions at the time over whether Rogers could remain in her position.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Rogers had not been asked to leave her position in the administration and said he did not think the gatecrashing incident played into her decision.
An Obama administration official told ABC News that the leading candidate to replace Rogers as White House social secretary was Julianna Smoot.
Smoot, currently the chief of staff for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, was the national finance director for the 2008 presidential campaign of then-Sen. Barack Obama, where she headed a record-setting fundraising operation.
Today Rogers said the time was right for her to move on.
"As we turn the corner on the first year," Rogers told the Chicago Sun Times Friday. "This is a good time for me to explore opportunities in the corporate world."
Rogers told her hometown newspaper it has been "an honor and a privilege to serve this president and first lady, in what has certainly been a historic presidency."
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama said in a statement today that they are "enormously grateful" to Rogers "for the terrific job she's done as the White House Social Secretary."
"When she took this position, we asked Desiree to help make sure that the White House truly is the People's House, and she did that by welcoming scores of everyday Americans through its doors, from wounded warriors to local schoolchildren to NASCAR drivers," the statement from the Obamas said. "She organized hundreds of fun and creative events during her time here, and we will miss her. We thank her again for her service and wish her all the best in her future endeavors."
The "gatecrasher" incident may define Rogers' brief tenure at the helm of the White House Social Office.
Virginia socialites Michaele and Tareq Salahi were able to make their way past layers of security despite not being invited to the event and not showing up on any of the official lists at the White House checkpoints.
Rogers admitted that nobody from her staff was working at the gates and check points when the Salahi's slipped in. The couple spent up to two hours on the grounds, making it all the way to the Blue Room to shake hands with the president and prime minister.
Rogers was at the dinner, but inside mingling with guests. Walking past a crowd of reporters who were gathered for the guest arrivals, Rogers paused to say whose designer gown she was wearing that night, (it was Comme Des Garcons).
A former chief of staff for a previous first lady told ABC News at the time, they could not recall a social secretary attending a dinner rather than working it.
"The only occasion that I know of that a social secretary sat down as a guest is when there is a last minute emergency cancellation and the social secretary was called on to fill in and sit down -- again part of the job to make things go smoothly," this official said.
The White House circled the wagons in defense of Rogers and pinned the blame on the Secret Service but questions continued over the social secretary's responsibility.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the top Republican on the House panel investigating the Nov. 24 White House security breach, renewed calls for White House social secretary Desiree Rogers to answer questions about her role in the incident by sending her a three-page letter earlier this month.
King's letter asks for answers on 15 questions he deemed "essential" for a full understanding of how Tareq and Michaele Salahi managed to masquerade on White House grounds without an invitation.
King's interest in Rogers' testimony has centered on the administration's decision to break from precedent and not to have a staff member assist Secret Service agents checking-in guests at entry points.
King's attempt to subpoena Rogers failed in a party-line vote after Democrats argued Rogers' role at White House events is outside the committee's purview. The White House cited separation of powers in refusing to allow Rogers to testify before the committee.
Who is Desiree Rogers?
Rogers came to the White House with a lengthy resume of executive positions back in Chicago, where she was a close friend of the Obamas. Her ties to the first couple go back decades: Her ex-husband, John Rogers, played basketball at Princeton with Michelle's older brother, Craig Robinson.
A native of New Orleans, Rogers graduated from Wellesley College and later Harvard Business School. She served as the former head of the Illinois Lottery and president of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas.
She has been profiled in Vogue magazine, with accompanying photographs dressed in an Oscar de la Renta trench coat and Manolo Blahnik shoes. She attended Fashion Week in New York last spring and had a prime seat next to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
Rogers was something of a local celebrity in Chicago, a frequent fixture on the social scene who was known for her keen fashion sense.
Rogers knew the gargantuan assignment she was taking on when she assumed the role of social secretary for the Obama White House.
After all, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama made it clear they wanted to bring change to the executive mansion and make their new home a more open, welcoming place to average Americans, like the ones they met over the years on the presidential campaign trail.
The responsibility of pulling that off falls to Rogers, who as social secretary is the principal coordinator for the social events at the White House and for the president and first lady.
Since taking on the role of social secretary for the youngest administration in decades, Rogers has added her own personal style to the execution of the Obamas' style. It was she who ordered the White House fountains be dyed green in honor of St. Patrick's Day last March, a nod to the tradition of dying the Chicago River green.
Rogers has organized and executed the largest Easter Egg Roll in White House history, with 30,000 visitors to the South Lawn; the White House music series, featuring nights of jazz, country and classical music. She also has played a key role in organizing outreach events that have brought local students, celebrities and artists to the White House.
Rogers told Vogue that her role as social secretary was to help Americans "visualize what the Obama presidency is about, the feelings Americans voted for -- inclusion, transparency, embracing people you might never otherwise learn about -- and also translating the splendor, that sweetness, that comfort of the White House to everyone."
After a pause, she smiled and admitted the obvious to the fashion magazine calling her mandate an "enormous task."