Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was not only one of the opening acts of President Obama’s second term, it also represented a changing of the guard in the White House speechwriting office.
Jon Favreau, the president’s muse since his days in the Senate, is on his way out, and a new chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, in on his way in.
At his Feb. 6 press briefing, White House Press secretary Jay Carney noted that Keenan was “taking the lead” on this year’s State of the Union address, and that he would “be getting a higher profile in the weeks to come — internally, anyway.”
Favreau departs on March 1, and as reported in the Los Angeles Times, is considering a career in Hollywood screenwriting. Keenan has worked with Obama since his 2008 presidential campaign and helped write several of the president’s most notable speeches, including the remarks he delivered after the Tucson, Ariz., and Newtown, Conn., shootings.
“When I first met Jon Favreau, he was a 24-year-old Massachusetts kid with a buzz cut who happened to share my belief in the unique power of a good story,” Obama said in a statement announcing the speechwriting change earlier this month. “Over the last eight years, through long days and late nights, he has become a friend and a collaborator on virtually every major speech I’ve given in the Senate, on the campaign trail and in the White House. Jon leaves enormous shoes to fill, but I’m confident that Cody Keenan — a proud son of Chicago and a supremely talented writer in his own right — is more than up to the task.”
A video released last week by the White House included a brief interview with Keenan, who once worked for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. In it, he said that the work of writing this week’s speech to a joint session of Congress, which was heavy on economic themes as well as such other policy priorities as immigration reform and gun control, began last November.
“Last night we sent him the first draft and just met with him for about an hour, and he likes it,” Keenan said, “which is a big relief for us.”
As the Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta pointed out in a profile of the White House’s new chief speechwriter, Keenan, a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said his job was “remarkably like graduate school.”
“You get a paper assignment, you might pull an all-nighter or come in really early to finish, and you hand it in and then you get his marks back and find out whether he likes it or not,” he told a Kennedy School Alumni publication in 2010. “The good thing is he’ll make detailed edits when he gets the speech, and he’s generous with his time — he’ll walk us through the edits and explain why he made them. That makes us better writers.”