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White House defends its record of women in leadership positions

Pete Souza / White House

President Barack Obama met with senior advisers on Dec. 29 in the Oval Office. Valerie Jarrett was the only woman among them -- her leg is just visible in front of the desk.


A photo of President Barack Obama meeting with his nearly all-male staff – a barely visible Valerie Jarrett being the exception -- to discuss fiscal cliff negotiations prompted questions at Wednesday's White House briefing about the number of high-level women in his administration.

The issue has gained relevance recently as news unfolded that the president would appoint men to all of the highest-profile cabinet positions (State, Defense and Treasury), even as some women were in the running. The number of women senior staff shrank even further Wednesday with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announcing her resignation.

Responding to a question from NBC’s Chuck Todd about whether the picture “embarrassed” President Obama, press secretary Jay Carney immediately listed the names of women in the administration.

“Two of the three deputy chiefs of staff are women,” Carney said. “The White House counsel is a woman. A woman runs homeland security for this country, Secretary Napolitano.”

He also named Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, who he described as the “cabinet secretary in charge of the most important piece of domestic policy legislation in a generation.”

Neither Napolitano nor Sebelius would have been in the picture that spurred Wednesday’s discussion, as their departments do not deal with fiscal issues.

“Including Valerie Jarrett, women serve in key policy roles here within the White House, as they do throughout the administration,” Carney said. He listed yet more women: Cecilia Munoz , Director of Domestic Policy, Tina Tchen, chief of staff to Michelle Obama, Nancy Hogan, White House personnel director Nancy Hogan.

“This president is committed to diversity,” he continued. “Look at the record.”

He continued to list more women, repeating Janet Napolitano’s name. He also named Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who had been in the running for the secretary of state position until she pulled her name following months of controversy about comments she made about the Benghazi attacks.  

Concluding, Carney said: “This president has made two appointments to the Supreme Court, both of them women.”