WASHINGTON >> For Barack Obama, there’s a presidential library to build, hundreds of millions of dollars to raise, causes to champion and a book to write. And don’t forget that long-promised vacation with his wife.
Looming retirement is looking like anything but for the 44th president.
Obama’s next chapter starts Friday when he becomes an ex-president. He’ll be freer to speak his mind, set his own schedule and make some money.
Already, Obama is looking ahead to the book he wants to write, and has had talks with Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel about arrangements that could include speaking gigs.
At 55, Obama will be a relatively young ex-president, with plenty of time for a second act. He’s ruled out running another campaign for political office — so has his wife — but he has pledged to stay an active in the national conversation.
With President-elect Donald Trump headed to the White House, Democrats are eager for Obama to play the role of shadow-president, offering direction to those Americans who feel they lost their political compass the day Trump was elected.
Obama has said he has plenty of ideas for how his party can revive itself, but after eight years as president, his role will be to offer guidance, not to micromanage.
“I think it’s appropriate for me to give advice, because I need some sleep,” Obama told NPR last month. “And I’ve promised Michelle a nice vacation. My girls are getting old enough now where I’m clinging to those very last moments before they are out of the house.”
Obama is expected to keep a low profile for the first few months after Trump’s swearing-in.
Following some relaxation time with his wife and daughters in an unnamed location, the family will return to Washington, where they’ve rented a mansion in the upscale Kalorama neighborhood.
Obama has repeatedly praised George. W. Bush for giving him room to operate without having the ex-president publicly second-guess him at every turn. Still, Obama has reserved the right to speak out against Trump if he pursues policies the president finds particularly odious, such as a ban on Muslim immigration or mass deportation of children brought to the U.S. illegally.
“The party is in bad state and there are no clear, obvious voices for Democrats yet,” said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “If there’s anyone who could stand up to a President Trump, it’s going to be former President Obama.”
Obama may re-emerge in a more public way around the time he releases his book — probably sometime next year — and goes on a promotional tour. Obama’s chief White House speechwriter, Cody Keenan, is expected to stay with his boss to help him craft the sequel to Obama’s two previous best-sellers.
Though Obama has yet to fully settle his plans, four individuals familiar with Obama’s thinking said over the last year that he’s discussed post-presidency arrangements with Emanuel, a leading talent executive. One of Emanuel’s brothers is Obama’s former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
It’s unclear whether Obama will sign with Ari Emanuel. But the discussions suggest Obama has been looking to Hollywood for inspiration about ways to engage creatively and on multiple fronts, such as digital media and television. Emanuel didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Whatever direction he goes, Obama will not be pressed financially. Obama can expect to fetch an advance of more than $20 million for his book, said Keith Urbahn, a literary agent at Javelin DC who’s handled best-sellers for top political figures.
“Half of the country still looks at him as their leader,” Urbahn said. “From a publishing perspective, he will probably end up with the highest advance of any ex-president in history.”
It won’t be long until Obama and his wife start raising money for the Barack Obama Foundation, which is developing his presidential library and center in Chicago. The price tag is expected to approach half a billion dollars.
The Obamas will have to hire personnel in the coming months as they engage more heavily in designing the center. While it will be several years before the library is up and running, the foundation has left open the possibility it might start some programming sooner.
Former White House aide Amy Brundage, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said it would use 2017 to “build upon the work that has begun” to create a center that inspires people to take on big challenges.
Obama also plans to stay involved in his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, recently renamed the “Task Force on Improving the Lives of Boys and Young Men of Color and Underserved Youth.” He is also teaming up with former Attorney General Eric Holder on the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a new initiative to improve Democrats’ hand when political districts are redrawn in 2020.
The hub of Obama’s activity will be his personal office, to be housed in the World Wildlife Fund headquarters not far from his rented home. For the first six months, he’ll also have a government-funded office overseeing his transition to ex-president.