WASHINGTON -- "I think you never quite know what this tightrope will be until you are on it," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told me about her first year in the Obama administration.
President Obama marks his first year in office today. After taking stock of the first 100 days, the anniversary of his election in November and the end of 2009, noon today is another milestone of looking back and peering ahead.
"The priority has to be, continues to be jobs," White House senior adviser David Axelrod told me as unemployment nationally hovers at 10 percent. "We didn't create this crisis, but we are responsible for trying to solve it."
Axelrod and Jarrett are two of Obama's closest advisers, Chicagoans who helped Obama put together his 2004 campaign for an Illinois Senate seat that catapulted him to the White House. Jarrett has a singular position in the Obama White House; she is a close social friend of the first family -- she joins them for dinner, vacations with them in Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard -- and she is a top staffer.
How does she manage the duel roles? A "natural segue," she said. "People ask me that all the time. It just doesn't seem that hard. We've done it throughout our life." She told me, "I call him 'Mr. President' if we are at work, and if we are not at work I call him 'Barack.' He is still my friend." She said the back-and-forth transition is easy: "I try very hard to compartmentalize."
Looking ahead, Axelrod described a focus on three domestic initiatives aimed at the middle class: more tax credits for small business and more job creation through additional infrastructure spending (in addition to the 2009 stimulus) and more incentives for Americans to weatherize homes.
Axelrod said he does not see the Obama White House pursuing immigration with Congress as a priority until there is a bipartisan "consensus to move forward."
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are exploring a deal, but the Senate has been around that block before, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) failed to sell their proposals to their colleagues on the left and the right.
"If it looks real," Axelrod said, "then, you know, we'll proceed. This is not a bill that will pass without a bipartisan consensus."
I talked to Axelrod and Jarrett before the results were known of the Massachusetts Senate race, and neither wanted to speculate on what would happen if the Democrats lost their critical 60th vote, which jeopardizes Obama's signature domestic legacy program, the health-care overhaul. Axelrod said no matter the outcome, "one way or the other," he predicted the Obama White House could get the bill passed.
After years of campaigning on the themes of "Hope" and "Change" Obama is getting criticized from the left for not fighting for a public option in the health bill, for not cracking down more on the banks that brought the nation to the brink of a depression and a string of other complaints -- never mind the reforms in the financial and credit card systems, bolstered fuel efficiency standards, pay equity for women, the appointment of the first Hispanic to the U.S. Supreme Court and the planned closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
"It would be a tragic thing if progressives, if anyone in the progressive community, turned that kind of progress away, you know, and made what they consider the perfect the enemy of the good," Axelrod said.
Said Jarrett, "We say continue to engage with us. We have to face the pragmatic reality that we have to work with Congress, and the president cannot unilaterally pass legislation. This is a collaborative effort. And so we encourage them to help us in that effort, and to continue to do it."