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September 06, 2012

Obama: 'I've Got Great Confidence in My Ability to Sway the American People'

Part of Bob Woodward's The Price of Politics leaked. Rick Klein at ABC has an advance look. Read the whole thing.

To recap, back in July of 2011, the Boehner-Obama budget talks fell apart. Speaker Boehner had gone way out on a limb, and at one point it looked like they had a deal that included tax increases and spending cuts, but in a case of the most inopportune kibitzing since the dawn of time, the "gang of six" chimed in at that precise moment with their own plan, which included even greater tax revenue increases. So, of course, Obama thought he could do better, and he pulled back from the agreement, demanding another 400 billion in tax revenue.

"But at a critical juncture, with an agreement tantalizingly close, Obama pressed Boehner for additional taxes as part of a final deal -- a miscalculation, in retrospect, given how far the House speaker felt he'd already gone."

. . .

When Boehner finally did call back, he jettisoned the entire deal. Obama lost his famous cool, according to Woodward, with a "flash of pure fury" coming from the president; one staffer in the room said Obama gripped the phone so tightly he thought he would break it.

"He was spewing coals," Boehner told Woodward, in what is described as a borderline "presidential tirade."

"He was pissed. He wasn't going to get a damn dime more out of me. He knew how far out on a limb I was. But he was hot. It was clear to me that coming to an agreement with him was not going to happen, and that I had to go to Plan B."

But the president claims he was "merely raising the possibility" of putting more tax revenue in to the deal. Anyone believe that? According to Speaker Boehner, it was a demand for $400 billion more, "despite the earlier agreement of no more than $800 billion in total revenue." So the parties had an agreement, but the president thought he could do even better and killed it with an absurd deal-breaker. Then, of course, when the deal fell through, he reacted with rage. Someone with executive experience wouldn't have handled things that way. The upshot was that people began to feel no one was in charge.

Woodward issues a harsh judgment on White House and congressional leaders for failing to act boldly at a moment of crisis. Particular blame falls on the president.

"It was increasingly clear that no one was running Washington. That was trouble for everyone, but especially for Obama," Woodward writes.

. . .

"The president was trying to get there. But there was nobody steering the ship underneath him," Boehner told Woodward. "They never had their act together. The president, I think, was ill-served by his team. Nobody in charge, no process. I just don't know how the place works. To this day, I can't tell you how the place works. There's no process for making a decision in this White House. There's nobody in charge."

Ill served by his team? I think Speaker Boehner is being charitable here. Obama calls the shots. Things may not run well, but Obama is in charge. It has something to do with that supreme confidence of his. No one on his staff could advise the man who thinks: "I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters"; "I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors"; "I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people Ill hire to do it"; "Im gonna think Im a better political director than my political director," and "I'd make a good chief of staff." Would a guy like that take advice on something he hasn't already delegated? I have no doubt he considers himself a great negotiator as well.

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. . . .

"John, I've got great confidence in my ability to sway the American people," Boehner quotes the president as having told him.

If he could only consider the possibility his great confidence may at the root of all his difficulties. All of them.

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posted by rdbrewer at 08:50 AM

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