Obama: Iran, I Can Deal With. But Congress?

In a statement Friday afternoon at the White House, the president showed that almost anything can be easier than dealing with the Legislature.

President Obama discussed the budget fight in Congress and foreign policy challenges on Friday at the White House.
National Journal
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Matt Berman and Brian Resnick
Sept. 27, 2013, 12:13 p.m.

Fri­day af­ter­noon showed how much move­ment the pres­id­ent can in­stig­ate on for­eign policy, and how help­less he can be when it comes to acts of Con­gress.

Speak­ing be­fore re­port­ers at the White House, Pres­id­ent Obama said he en­gaged in the first dir­ect talks an Amer­ic­an pres­id­ent has had with an Ir­a­ni­an pres­id­ent since 1979. In that tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion, the pres­id­ent said, “I have made clear that we re­spect the right of the Ir­a­ni­ans to ac­cess peace­ful nuc­le­ar en­ergy, so the test will be mean­ing­ful, trans­par­ent, and veri­fi­able ac­tions which can also bring re­lief from the com­pre­hens­ive in­ter­na­tion­al sanc­tions that are cur­rently in place.”

It’s a move that can be­gin to thaw the long-held sanc­tions and lack of dip­lomacy with the coun­try that only a year ago the U.S. seemed destined to meet in mil­it­ary con­flict — though there is still spec­u­la­tion that Rouh­ani’s out­reach is in­sin­cere, and just a means to end sanc­tions on his coun­try. As For­eign Policy magazine puts it, un­like his pre­de­cessor, Rouh­ani “has the polit­ic­al acu­men not to pub­li­cize” his an­im­os­ity to­ward the United States.

Re­gard­less, con­trast that con­ver­sa­tion to the debt ceil­ing.

If we’ve seen this epis­ode play out be­fore, we’ve also heard the pres­id­ent re­spond to it in a sim­il­ar way. His re­marks were boil­er­plate. He’s not go­ing to budge on the Af­ford­able Care Act in or­der to fund the gov­ern­ment. And he again called Re­pub­lic­ans out on what he sees as debt-ceil­ing host­age-tak­ing. “So over the next three days, House Re­pub­lic­ans will have to de­cide wheth­er to join the Sen­ate and keep the gov­ern­ment open or shut it down be­cause they can’t get their way on an is­sue that has noth­ing to do with the de­fi­cit.”

Obama, as he has be­fore, tried to turn the de­bate away from con­gres­sion­al mech­an­ics and Obama­care fund­ing and to­ward people who would be im­pacted by a gov­ern­ment shut­down, or a de­fault on the debt. “Nobody gets to hurt our eco­nomy, and mil­lions of in­no­cent people,” Obama said, ” just be­cause there are a couple of laws you do not like.” Speak­ing to the Re­pub­lic­an fac­tion led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that is look­ing to de­fund Obama­care, the pres­id­ent said that you “do not threaten to burn the house down just be­cause you haven’t got­ten 100 per­cent of your way.” A shut­down, or a bust­ing of the debt-ceil­ing, could be a threat not just to the U.S. eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery, the pres­id­ent said, but to the en­tire glob­al eco­nomy.

So while the pres­id­ent might reach “a com­pre­hens­ive solu­tion” with a for­eign gov­ern­ment that has been blustery and caustic, he can’t seem to do the same thing with his own.

Up­date (4:32 p.m.): Speak­er Boehner’s spokes­man Brendan Buck sent around this quick quote after the state­ment from the pres­id­ent:

The House will take ac­tion that re­flects the fun­da­ment­al fact that Amer­ic­ans don’t want a gov­ern­ment shut­down and they don’t want the train wreck that is Obama­care. Grand­stand­ing from the pres­id­ent, who re­fuses to even be a part of the pro­cess, won’t bring Con­gress any closer to a res­ol­u­tion.

Noth­ing here on Ir­an, of course. As to what Amer­ic­ans ac­tu­ally want, “no shut­down, no Obama­care” isn’t so clear-cut.


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