What happened when the First Lady snapped at the President
It is almost exactly ten years ago that I had the most memorable experience of my life when, as part of a small party from Cambridge University, I visited Bill and Hillary in the Oval Office.
Through the University’s New York director, John McCaffrey, the President had agreed to host a lecture at the White House by Professor Stephen Hawking and we were planing to use the event to get closer to Cambridge’s top US fundraising prospects – which was my concern.
On the day before we got a call from the White House saying that the President and First Lady would be delighted to offer us coffee in the Oval Office at 11am. A group of six of us turned up at the appointed time and went directly into the room from the pathway.
Bill was everything people say about him – immediately engaging and welcoming. He then got talking to Stephen Hawking who, of course, has to communicate through an electronic box with him thumbing in instructions to a complex input device. This means that there is always a time-lag between a question being asked and his response.
After a few minutes of conversation in this manner Bill called across the room to his wife – “Hey how are we going to manage the lecture tomorrow night?”.
Hillary’s response was short, sharp and sounded like a put down – “You don’t need to know about that now”.
Bill said simply “OK – fine” and he continued talking to Stephen Hawking.
Ever since I have wondered about that answer by the First Lady. Was it being done for our benefit because this was in the middle of the Lewinsky affair or was she always like that?
I don’t know but my abiding memory is of an amazingly powerful woman. The White House communications team got what they wanted from our visit – the front page of the next day’s USAToday was dominated by a picture of Bill, Hillary and Professor Hawking.