News broke yesterday as excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book, The Price of Politics, were leaked to the press. Woodward, who has written a number of books about administrations, recounted the debt ceiling fight that took place last year and offered some behind-the-scenes information on negotiations between President Barack Obama and House Republicans.
What we’ve learned thus far isn’t all that flattering to the White House, painting the picture of a president that was excluded from the process at one point as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tried to workout a deal:
Woodward portrays a president who remained a supreme believer in his own powers of persuasion, even as he faltered in efforts to coax congressional leaders in both parties toward compromise. Boehner told Woodward that at one point, when Boehner voiced concern about passing the deal they were working out, the president reached out and touched his forearm.
“John, I’ve got great confidence in my ability to sway the American people,” Boehner quotes the president as having told him.
But after the breakthrough agreement fell apart, Boehner’s “Plan B” would ultimately exclude the president from most of the key negotiations. The president was “voted off the island,” in Woodward’s phrase, even by members of his own party, as congressional leaders patched together an eleventh hour framework to avoid default.
Frustration over the lack of clear White House planning was voiced to Obama’s face at one point, with a Democratic congressional staffer taking the extraordinary step of confronting the president in the Oval Office.
With the nation facing the very real possibility of defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history, David Krone, the chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told the president directly that he couldn’t simply reject the only option left to Congress.
“It is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B,” Krone said, according to Woodward.
Reading what has been made available from the book not only shows Obama and his advisers being excluded by Congress, but also being very arrogant in the process. For example, Woodward notes that during the debate over the stimulus bill in 2009, then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was more than candid about lack of interest in working with Republicans:
With the president taking charge, though, Obama found that he had little history with members of Congress to draw on. His administration’s early decision to forego bipartisanship for the sake of speed around the stimulus bill was encapsulated by his then-chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel: “We have the votes. F—- ‘em,” he’s quoted in the book as saying.
While I’m sure those words have been used before by both parties in Congress when it came to talking about their opposition, but for an administration that has preached bipartianship and a condemned divisive rhetoric, Emanuel’s comment is just classy.
Other excerpts have been released, including President Obama’s inability to bond with business leaders during a visit to the White House. Woodward apparently lays blame on both Obama and House Republicans for the debt ceiling fight, but he has strong words for the White House:
In his final chapter, Woodward faults both Obama and Boehner for their handling of the fiscal crisis, concluding that “neither was able to transcend their fixed partisan convictions and dogmas. Rather than fixing the problem, they postponed it. . . . When they met resistance from other leaders in their parties, they did not stand their ground.”
He has tougher words for Obama. “It is a fact that President Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition,” he writes. “But presidents work their will — or should work their will — on important matters of national business. . . . Obama has not.”
It looks like a great read, especially if you’re a political junkie like me. Given that the most importat election of our lifetime is fast-approaching, this should be require reading for all of us, regardless of our political beliefs, to better understand President Obama.