Who Is Cody Keenan, Obama's SOTU Speechwriter?

He's posed as a pirate and toiled on the funerals beat. Now he's taking over the task of writing the president's major addresses.

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Cody Keenan, President Obama, and Jon Favreau on Feb. 5, 2013. (Pete Souza/The White House)

Cody Keenan may not have a famous doppleganger in Hollywood like his colleague Jon Favreau, but when Favreau leaves the White House on March 1 to pursue a career as a screenwriter, Keenan's visibility is sure to spike in his new role as chief speechwriter at the White House. His first big reveal will be tonight, as he has been working with President Obama to pen the 2013 State of the Union address.

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That speech will have been "a collaborative process between the president and his speechwriter," White House spokesman Jay Carney noted last week during a press briefing, "in this case, Cody Keenan." He was "taking the lead on the speechwriting team for this and will be getting a higher profile in the weeks to come -- internally, anyway," Carney said. "But these are speeches that the president takes very seriously. He's a writer himself, so he engages at a very deep level on the framing of a speech, on the writing of it and the editing of it and the shaping of it. So that process continues."

Here are some facts about Keenan:

* He worked with Obama to craft his 2011 Tucson remarks after Gabby Giffords was shot.

That speech was hailed by many as a pitch-perfect call for unity in the wake of a national tragedy, and with guns back in the news and Keenan's history of grappling with the issue -- and also of toiling away on what a friend of his once called the "eulogy and commencement beat" in the White House speechwriting shop -- get ready for an elegiac turn tonight.

The January 2011 speech was the first time Keenan, who was raised in suburban Chicago and Connecticut, popped up on the national press register. A Chicago Tribune story recounted at the time:

... After the much-applauded speech in Arizona, his anonymity is a thing of the past.

Flying back to Washington aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters late Wednesday that Keenan had been the speechwriter.

"It's C-O-D-Y K-E-E-N-A-N," Gibbs said. "And I'll double-check that, but I'm almost positive."

"A proud Northwestern fan," he added.

Gibbs said Obama probably had his "first conversations" with Keenan about the speech on Monday. "And what they usually do is the president will -- they'll bring a laptop in and the president will download a little bit on what he'd like to say," Gibbs said.

Obama sent changes back to Keenan about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Gibbs said, and work on the speech continued through the day. "They made edits even after we landed in Arizona," Gibbs said.

Of course, every speech by the president is the president's -- lest anyone forget.

By Thursday morning, Gibbs emphasized that Obama had wielded the heavier pen.

"I think last night was a speech that was very much the president's, and he spent a great deal of time going through his thoughts on this and spent a lot of time working on what he wanted to say," Gibbs said.

* He used to work for Ted Kennedy.

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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