One of the best looks at Barack Obama’s post-presidency so far was published over the weekend courtesy of New York’s Gabriel Debenedetti. The story touches on everything from Obama’s decision to largely stay out of the political fray, his lucrative post-presidential business opportunities, writing his presidential memoir, and his behind-the-scenes efforts to save Obamacare. The whole thing is well worth reading.
President and Mrs. Obama have about 60 million reasons to smile today, according to the Financial Times:
A blockbuster auction for the global rights to two books by Barack and Michelle Obama has reached more than $60m, according to people with knowledge of the sales process, a record sum for US presidential memoirs.
The Obamas are writing separate books but selling the rights jointly.
Several publishers including Penguin Random House, which published Mr Obama’s previous three books, and HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, have expressed interest in the most hotly anticipated publishing deal of the year.
Some perspective on how this compares to other presidential book deal:
The sum offered would eclipse other book deals secured by departing presidents. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, paid $15m for the rights to Bill Clinton’s 2004 memoirs My Life when he left the White House, while George W Bush made an estimated $10m from his book Decision Points, which was published by Crown.
UPDATE: According to the New York Times, Penguin Random House won the bidding war for the worldwide rights to both books. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but estimated to be worth “tens of millions.” There will be a nonprofit/charity component to the publication and the advances of both books.
The publisher plans to donate one million books in the Obama family’s name to First Book, a Penguin Random House nonprofit partner, and the Washington-based partner for the 2016 White House digital education initiative, Open eBooks. The Obamas also plan to donate a portion of their advances to charity, including the Obama Foundation.
According to The Hill, the Obamas have signed on with the Harry Walker Agency, which will represent them and arrange their post-White House speaking gigs. The publication also reports that Washington D.C. lawyers Robert Barnett and Deneen Howell will represent them in negotiations for potential book deals. There are no book releases or speaking engagements currently planned.
There’s also this bit of news from Politico Playbook:
Allison Zelman, a Clinton and Obama alum, and Paulette Aniskoff, a former director of the Office of Public Engagement at the Obama White House, have launched Citizen 44 LLC, which will “oversee President Obama’s engagement with political and progressive organizations and major supporters around the country to defend his legacy. They will also run his alumni network.” FROM ANITA BRECKENRIDGE, OBAMA’S CHIEF OF STAFF: “Paulette is someone who the President has relied on, and who countless allies and activists partnered closely with during our time in the White House. During her ten years on the campaign and inside the administration, she ran point on some of the most important fights we had and was a trusted senior strategist. We are thrilled to have her as a key member of the post presidency team.”
I don’t suppose anyone told them that Citizen 44 sounds very close to Citizenfour, the Oscar-winning documentary about Edward Snowden…
UPDATE: Reaction from Paulette Aniskoff
According to TMZ, the former president and First Lady are getting on a plane after tomorrow’s inauguration and heading straight to Palm Springs.
The Obamas will remain in Washington D.C. for two more years, until youngest daughter Sasha graduates from high school in 2019, according to the Chicago Tribune. In the meantime, they will be renting a home in the Kalorama neighborhood belonging to former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.
President Obama will be leasing office space in the World Wildlife Fund headquarters near Dupont Circle and George Washington University. He has hired Anita Decker Breckenridge, an aide since he was a state legislator contemplating a U.S. Senate run in 2003, to be his chief of staff. He will be involved in efforts to rebuild the Democratic Party, as well as the National Democratic Redistricting Committee led by his former attorney general Eric Holder. He will also begin fundraising for his foundation and presidential center, which is scheduled to open in Chicago in 2021.
As for the outgoing first lady, the Washington Post has a great story on her possible post-White House plans: after a break, she will hire a small staff and get an office space. Her team will be led by Melissa Winter, her longtime deputy chief of staff since 2007.
Both the President and the First Lady are expected to write their memoirs after leaving office. Literary agents and book publishers told the New York Times the Obamas’ potential book deals could range from $10 to 45 million. One key detail from the NYT: “Under a $1.9 million contract he signed in 2004 with Crown, Mr. Obama is obliged to produce another nonfiction book for the publishing house. But Mr. Barnett has said that book would not be a memoir, and no one interviewed for this story thought Mr. Obama would deliver that book to Crown under the 2004 terms.” This means that President Obama likely has more books in him (at least one more, per his 2004 contract) than just his memoirs.
The Obamas’ popularity abroad could make the foreign rights to any books they write even more valuable. They are both expected to make the rounds on the speaking circuit, which has proven to be a lucrative source of income for former presidents and first ladies.
The other thing to remember is that in addition to their popularity at home (President Obama is leaving office with a 60 percent approval rating, according to a recent CNN poll) and abroad, the Obamas are relatively young compared to other former presidents and first ladies: he’s 55, she’s 53. Considering that both Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush are in their early 90s, this means the Obamas will likely have a long post presidency ahead to continue to defend and shape his White House legacy, as well as other endeavors.
Because it’s never too early to start speculating for the next presidential election, the Washington Post handicapped the Democrats’ possible field of presidential candidates for 2020. One key observation:
Although this most stunning upset in modern presidential history has produced (and will produce) a thousand aftershocks, one of the most unlikely and important is that the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 is now open.
That opening is made all the more remarkable by the fact that there is simply no logical heir (or even heirs) to President Obama or Clinton — no obvious candidate waiting in the wings to step forward and rebuild the party. Vice President Biden appears to have decided that he is done running for office. As a two-time loser, Clinton is done, too. And after that, the bench is, well, pretty thin.
The outcome of the last election did two things: it postponed the Republican reconstruction most people thought would happen after a Donald Trump loss; and it accelerated the need and timetable for a Democratic reconstruction, which many thought wouldn’t happen until after a Hillary Clinton presidency. To elaborate on the latter point, most Democrats and political observers would probably have assumed that the party would have another four years (or eight) during a Clinton presidency to develop its bench in state and federal government. Needless to say, that plan changed and they’re scrambling to start the rebuilding process, particularly at the state level where the party has suffered many losses during the Obama years.
The good news for Democrats is they have a favorable map and calendar for statewide races for the next two years, not so much for congressional races, particularly the Senate. [Keep in mind, a lot can change in two years. This is the outlook as it stands right now.] This gives them an opportunity to recruit candidates and test new messages and strategies and build up their bench in the run-up for the 2020 presidential election and redistricting. The bad news is they have a lot of catching up to do.