White House Social Secretary To Step Down

Presidential confidante Desiree Rogers said Friday she would step down as White House social secretary. The Chicago native is a friend of the first family and came to town with unusual style for a social secretary. She came under criticism early this year when an uninvited couple gained entry to the Obamas' first state dinner.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There's news today that the White House social secretary is stepping down. Desiree Rogers came in for much criticism after a gate-crashing episode at the president's first state dinner last year. She plans to leave her post sometime next month.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: White House social secretary isn't usually a high-profile position, but Desiree Rogers made it one. The wealthy Chicagoan and longtime friend of the first family brought her own star power to the job. In an interview with NPR's Michele Norris, soon after the president swearing in last year, Rogers said she saw her role as much more than a simple party planner.

Ms. DESIREE ROGERS (Social Secretary, White House): In my mind, there are multi-layers to this position. So I putting party planning at kind of letter E. Starting with letter A is the overall strategy for the events at the White House.

HORSLEY: Like her boss, Rogers was a pathbreaker, the first African-American to hold the title of social secretary. She raised eyebrows in traditional Washington, wearing glamorous designer gowns and posing for magazine spreads.

But the Harvard-educated business executive was not intimidated as she went about promoting what she called the Obama brand.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

When you talked to previous social secretaries, did they say anything to you that terrified you?

Ms. ROGERS: No.

NORRIS: You're not easily shaken.

Ms. ROGERS: I'm not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROGERS: You can't be and be in this job.

HORSLEY: Rogers' organizational skills got their biggest test last November, when the administration hosted its first state dinner in honor of the Indian prime minister. An elaborate tent was pitched on the South Lawn of the White House to accommodate hundreds of invited guests, but not everyone who showed up had an invitation.

A Virginia couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, talked their way past heavy White House security. The would-be reality show stars later tried to explain themselves on NBC's "Today" show.

Mr. TAREQ SALAHI: We're greatly saddened by your portraying my wife and I as party crashers, and I can tell you, we did not party-crash the White House.

HORSLEY: Congress grilled the Secret Service over the apparent breakdown in security, but the White House refused to let Rogers testify. She later acknowledged that staffers from her office were not present at the security checkpoint to help in checking invitations, a lapse that's since been corrected.

The president and first lady issued a statement today saying they're enormously grateful to Rogers for the terrific job she's done. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Rogers delivered on her pledge to make the White House the people's house.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press Secretary, White House): The doors of this house were opened to folks that had not necessarily always gotten to be here, whether it was schoolchildren from the area, whether it was low-income kids that got an opportunity to see the White House up close and inside of it.

HORSLEY: Rogers plans to leave her position next month. She told the Chicago Sun Times she's exploring opportunities in the corporate world. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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