To many it looks like President Obama and First Lady Michelle have a picture-perfect marriage. In a candid interview with New York Times writer Jodi Kantor, the first couple revealed things weren't always so perfect.
Kantor joined Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Friday. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
Kiran Chetry: You had a very rare opportunity to sit down with both of them for 40 minutes and ask them a lot of personal questions about their marriage. What struck you the most about that interview?
Jodi Kantor: A couple of things. One was just being in the Oval Office, the place that symbolizes executive power and we were talking about things like date night. And another thing, you know, I think the question that elicited the most memorable response was I asked the president and first lady if it's possible to have an equal marriage when one member is president and it was a little tough for the president to answer the question.
Chetry: So how did he answer it?
Kantor: Well, he took a couple tries. I mean, he's normally so eloquent and fluent and he tried once and he tried again and then he said, I have to be really careful about how I answer this question. And Mrs. Obama is looking at him, intently, to see what he's going to say. And finally, she sort of stepped in to say, you know what, in our jobs, we are not equal now, but in our private lives we are.
Chetry: And are they equal, or does she kind of call the shots a little bit more? He has talked about how she's a really, really important person when it comes to getting a read. He jokes that she's the every man and she has some really good insight when she advises him on perhaps how things are going to be received. But is there a clear upper hand in terms of who runs the show?
Kantor: What's interesting now, is that they're getting into each other's spheres. President Obama didn't live full-time at home for a long time. This is the first time since 1996 that the Obamas are under the same roof. So now he has more of a chance to do some of the domestic duties, and Mrs. Obama, while she's not that involved in administration policy, she does play a political role as first lady. And she's getting more involved in politics.
Chetry: For people who are scratching their heads saying, wait a minute, what do you mean they didn't live under the same roof. He was a state senator, so that would involve him traveling between Springfield and their home in Chicago. And of course he was on the campaign trail too. She talked to you about how she’s just now realizing how much she missed having him there seven days a week.
Kantor: It was the major issue in their marriage for a long time. The absence was incredibly hard to cope with and they say this is their favorite thing about being in the White House. They finally know that they're going to wake up seeing each other every morning.
Chetry: And get a chance to work out together, which is nice. Not a lot of people get to do that. President Obama also talked about the one time, he claims, that he'd been annoyed since being at the White House. And he said that was when he took the first lady out for date night in New York and people made it into a political issue. What else did he tell you about that?
Kantor: He almost gave this poignant soliloquy about it. The Obamas have a long history of date nights. They've been doing it for a long time, to spend time together. And he talked about wanting to take his wife out on a date and how he made her this promise during the campaign and they came to New York and they saw a show and, as we know, they were subject to criticism for using federal money on their own private entertainment. And he talked about how upsetting it was to him that he was just trying to do something nice for his wife and it became political.
Chetry: You also asked them if they ever thought their marriage was going to not work out and whether they sought counseling. How did he answer that?
Kantor: They said they never feared the marriage would actually come to an end, but they did have a serious period of tension in their marriage.
Chetry: And he didn't really answer either way whether they had sought counseling for that?
Kantor: Well, I would urge viewers to go to nytimes.com, read the story, read his answer and see what you think it means.