In a rare display of anger and frustration, President Obama appealed to two wavering coalitions as he condemned Republicans for “walking away” from deficit-reduction negotiations: Liberals accusing him of caving to the GOP, and independents tired of Washington’s childish, churlish ways.
“The American people are just desperate for folks who are willing to put aside politics just for a minute and try to get some stuff done,” Obama intoned.
(RELATED: Transcript of Obama's News Conference)
Substantively, the collapse of debt talks—restarted Saturday morning at the White House with Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—may have marked the biggest disappointment of his presidency. But the president deftly managed to play to both his liberal base and independent voters at the same time.
Obama showed the left he’s willing to fight, while forcefully making a pitch to independents—the folks that will ultimately decide whether or not he serves a second term—that he’s the adult in the room that is a deeply-divided Washington.
(RELATED: Text of Boehner's Letter)
The president was eloquent but fierce. He argued that he and his fellow Democrats went more than halfway by putting traditional Democratic sacred cows like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid on the table. And he even took a moment to lecture the press not to depict the collapse of the talks as just another moment of partisan posturing.
“I think this whole episode has indicated the degree to which a Democratic president has been willing to make difficult compromises,” Obama said. “So when you guys go out there and write your stories, this is not a situation of this is somehow the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans. A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically.”
(RELATED: Boehner Quits Talks; Obama Angered)
Obama will certainly be accused by the right of being haughty in his rejoinder to the GOP. But he was precise in laying out his case that Republicans had failed the American people. He argued that his plan was more “generous” to Republican concerns than the bipartisan plan floated by the Senate “Gang of Six” that would cut $3.7 trillion from the deficit.
Before Friday’s excoriation of Republicans, Obama had lauded Boehner, who is to brief his caucus via conference call after the White House meeting Saturday, for showing leadership in trying to hatch out a “grand bargain.” But in his comments, Obama didn’t hold back in questioning Boehner’s leadership. The Saturday meeting at the White House ended at 11:58 a.m.
“Up until sometime earlier today when I couldn't get a phone call returned, my expectation was that Speaker Boehner was going to be willing to go to his caucus, and ask them to do the tough thing, but the right thing,” Obama said. “I think it has proven difficult for Speaker Boehner to do that.”
(RELATED: How the Talks Broke Down)
At one point is his 30-minute press conference, Obama said that he wasn’t interested in “finger-pointing or blame” but in nearly the next breath he made clear that he felt the Republicans had put the nation in a difficult situation.
“I want the facts to speak for themselves,” Obama said. “Now, I'll leave it up to the American people to make a determination as to how fair that is.”