PARIS — First lady Michelle Obama’s spokeswoman got an urgent call Saturday morning, summoning her to the U.S. Embassy ahead of time. An aide told Katie McCormick Lelyveld that Obama’s daughters were ready to leave and she had better hurry.
But instead of finding Malia and Sasha waiting for her, she saw her boyfriend and an engagement ring.
‘I thought she was going to pass out,’ said Tommy Vietor, an assistant White House press secretary who handles State and Defense issues for President Barack Obama.
‘I was shaking _ he completely surprised me,’ McCormick Lelyveld said. ‘I couldn’t have picked a more perfect way for this to happen.’
Vietor 28, took a late Friday afternoon flight from Washington, arrived in Paris at 6:30 a.m. local time, grabbed a taxi and quickly showered and changed into a suit at the U.S. Embassy.
The whole operation was executed under thick secrecy.
Alyssa Mastromonaco, who manages the White House road show, and Mrs. Obama’s scheduler, Franny Starkey, were in on the plan.
The first lady’s traveling aide, Kristen Jarvis, phoned McCormick Lelyveld, 30, and told her to hustle over to the embassy. Jarvis then led her to a room where she found Vietor, who didn’t sleep on the seven-hour flight.
McCormick Lelyveld and Vietor met in 2004. She was working for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign; he was working for then-North Carolina Sen. John Edwards’ rival campaign.
After Edwards lost the nomination to Kerry, McCormick Lelyveld interviewed Vietor for a Kerry campaign job he ultimately decided against taking. Instead, he went work as a deputy press secretary for a U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois: Barack Obama.
They started dating when Vietor returned to Washington.
Vietor says the couple hasn’t decided when to marry _ nor have they spoken with the Obamas. He joked that the president and first lady were busy with ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France at Normandy.
When told of the proposal, President Obama told aides Vietor had pulled off a ‘smooth move.’
Paris is a world capital that Obama says he would like nothing more than to take advantage of _ strolling down the banks of the Seine, going out for nice meals with his wife, Michelle, and having picnics in Luxembourg Gardens.
But unfortunately for him, just not while he is president.
‘Those days are over, for the moment,’ Obama told a reporter in Caen who asked whether his brief visits to France and Germany, and lack of private activity in either country, meant Europe was not a priority for him.
‘What it means is that I have a very tough schedule,’ he said. ‘When I take these foreign trips, it’s to get business done.’
Besides, dinner is overrated.
Obama said French President Nicolas Sarkozy a friend he can pick up the phone and chat with at anytime.
‘At some point, I will be the ex-president and then you will find me in France, I’m sure, quite a bit, having fun,’ Obama said.
French media have speculated that Obama and his family, including his daughters, would have dinner atop the Eiffel Tower on Saturday night.
Obama scolded French journalists for ‘reading too much into my schedule.’
He appeared similarly piqued a day earlier in Germany, where the media there watched intently for signs of tension in his relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In France, Obama noted that his country’s unemployment rate has climbed to 9.4 percent, the highest in more than 25 years. He said he still has a lot of work to do turn around the U.S. economy.
‘That all requires a lot of work, and so my travel schedule is always limited,’ he said.
Obama singled out a few veterans for special mention in his D-Day remarks at the American cemetery at Normandy’s Omaha Beach.
The story of D-Day was told, he said, by men like Zane Schlem