Author’s Note: At the suggestion of a TMV reader, the title of this post has been changed.
Obama’s performance was so strong that chagrined Republican legislators told reporters they had made a mistake in agreeing to allow cameras into the session (emphasis is in original):
As Luke Russert reported on MSNBC:
RUSSERT: Tom Cole — former head of the NRCC, congressman from Oklahoma — said, “He scored many points. He did really well.” Barack Obama, for an hour and a half, was able to refute every single Republican talking point used against him on the major issues of the day. In essence, it was almost like a debate where he was front and center for the majority of it. … One Republican said to me, off the record, behind closed doors: “It was a mistake that we allowed the cameras to roll like that. We should not have done that.”
Let’s go straight to the roundup.
President Obama spoke at a Republican House retreat in Baltimore, and did so well that the one GOPer said it was a “mistake” allowing the “cameras to roll like that.” He told them they can’t tell their constituents the president is doing all kinds of crazy things if they seriously want bipartisanship, saying “You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion. Because, what you’ve been telling your constituents is: this guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that is going to destroy America.” And he remarked how many of them went to ribbon-cutting ceremonies to herald projects they voted against.
James Fallows, Atlantic.com:
Obama should do this more often, and with members of both parties. Also, I would like to hear from spokesmen for the once-strong “Obama can’t possibly think without his teleprompter” camp after watching more than an hour of live Q-and-A.
Scott Payne, The League of Ordinary Gentlemen:
Let me just add that as much as I like seeing this showing from Obama, what I would really like to see is him do the same thing with his own Blue Dog/Reagan Democrat Caucus.
Steve Benen, The Washington Monthly:
Perhaps the most noteworthy portion of today’s event in Baltimore, during the Q&A between President Obama and House Republicans, came during an exchange on health care reform.
The president explained that the “component parts” of the Democratic reform plan are “pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year.” Obama reminded GOP lawmakers that they may or may not agree with those three, but by any measure, “that’s not a radical bunch.”
He added, “But if you were to listen to the debate, and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. That’s how you guys presented it…. I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this it’s similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.
“So all I’m saying is we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality.”
Marc Ambinder, Atlantic.com:
The moment President Obama began his address to Republicans in Baltimore today, I began to receive e-mails from Democrats: Here’s an except from one of them: “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry that it took a f$$@&$* year for Obama to step into the ring and start throwing some verbal blows… I’m definitely praying at mass on Sunday morning that this Obama doesn’t take another 12 month vacation.”
This e-mail comes from a very influential Democrat.
Accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the White House has made in months. Debating a law professor is kind of foolish: the Republican House Caucus has managed to turn Obama’s weakness — his penchant for nuance — into a strength. Plenty of Republicans asked good and probing questions, but Mike Pence, among others, found their arguments simply demolished by the president. (By the way: can we stop with the Obama needs a teleprompter jokes?)
More than the State of the Union — or on top of the State of the Union — this may be a pivotal moment for the future of the presidential agenda on Capitol Hill. (Democrats are loving this. Chris Hayes, The Nation‘s Washington bureau chief, tweeted that he hadn’t liked Obama more since the inauguration.)
… the MSM is already trying to spin it like Obama schooled the Republicans. Of course they are splicing in a lot of Obama footage and leaving much of the Republicans questions and statements on the cutting room floor.
Curt does provide a link to the entire Q&A, so you can judge for yourself the quality of the Republicans’ questions and statements.
As others have noted, the speech very much seemed to be an attempt by the president to show that he is bipartisan, friendly, and open to GOP ideas – no matter how the facts might appear to you. Both sides took the opportunity to play to the cameras of course, with long questions centering on deficits and broken promises, and well-rehearsed answers about the trillions in deficits inherited from President Bush.
According to staff, the House Republicans had invited the president to attend and speak some weeks ago; the White House accepted. The GOP did not suggest that cameras be allowed for the speech because they assumed such an offer would be rejected. The White House asked (last night) to allow cameras and the Republicans eagerly agreed. So if the event seemed political, each side got what it wanted. The GOP is touting the benefits of having the president say – on the record – that they have offered substantive proposals. They also argue that this appearance puts Nancy Pelosi in a tough position: the president promised bipartisanship, and she’s delivering none. They see the chance to knock her down a few more pegs.
Ezra Klein at The Washington Post was particularly happy about the way Pres. Obama set the record straight on how un-radical the health care reform bill is, and how Republicans have spent months misrepresenting it in a way that makes it very hard for them now to switch gears and work cooperatively on the issue. Ezra quotes a long section of the relevant part of the transcript. I will quote a part of that section. This is Obama speaking:
I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.
I mean, the fact of the matter is is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, “This guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.”
As Obama said later in the session, “our constituents start believing us. They don’t know sometimes this is just politics.” And if they don’t know it’s just politics, then legislators can’t act as it’s just politics.
Sam Stein at The Huffington Post (under the headline “Obama Goes To GOP Lions’ Den — and Mauls the Lions”)
President Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat in Baltimore on Friday and delivered a performance that was at once defiant, substantive and engaging. For roughly an hour and a half, Obama lectured GOP leaders and, in a protracted, nationally-televised question-and-answer session, deflected their policy critiques, corrected their misstatements and scolded them for playing petty politics. (Full video and transcript available HERE.)
Mike Pence has been coming in for some praise from conservative bloggers who have singled him out for the question he asked Pres. Obama about his plan to offer tax credits to small businesses as an incentive to hire more employees and raise wages. Pence called it “the Jimmy Carter tax credit.”
Daniel Larison is less complimentary:
Yesterday I said that the GOP remains just as intellectually bankrupt and unimaginative as ever, but I need to amend that in light of Pence’s comments. If possible, the GOP has somehow managed to become even worse than it was in previous years. How else can you explain the desperate bid to reframe tax credits for small business as a job-killing measure? It is tax credits similar to these that the Republicans normally advocate as a matter of course, and it was this sort of thing that Republicans were demanding more of last year during the debate over the stimulus bill. Instead of recognizing this and trying to claim that the administration has adopted one of his party’s solutions, Pence is reduced to the absurdity of claiming that possible tax reduction on businesses that hire new employees is some revival of the dreaded Carter years.
Pence does not attack these credits for being insufficient, nor does he attack them for being unaffordable. He doesn’t even resort to the old favorite of complaining that the tax code is already too complicated and needs to be radically simplified. To make a coherent critique of the measure, Pence could have said any of those things. Instead, he started talking about someone who’s been out of office almost thirty years and who has nothing to do with the current proposal. Plus, he is arguing that tax reduction creates disincentives for growth.
Remarking on Obama’s upcoming meeting with House Republicans, Pence said:
There has been a perception greatly propagated by the majority in Congress and many in the administration to suggest that we are the party of no ideas.
Who could have given them that impression? It certainly couldn’t have been Mike Pence and his heroic resistance to Jimmy Carter tax credits!
White House officials told the Huffington Post they were absolutely ecstatic. MSNBC’s Luke Russert, who was on the scene in Baltimore, relayed that a Republican official and other GOP aides had confided to him that allowing the “cameras to roll like that” was a “mistake.”
The liveliest momoment from a consistently lively (and entertaining) takeoff on “prime minister’s questions” at the House GOP’s retreat this morning. I’m kidding in the headline, needless to say: The One would never stoop to something as crassly partisan as calling someone a teabagger. He leaves that stuff, and the endless crap about “angry mobs” and “evil-mongers” and coded racism, to progressive water-carriers like Reid and Schumer and MSNBC, all of whom are gently, namelessly chastised here with a fleeting admission that “It’s not just on your side, by the way.” The money line about health care: “If you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot.” To which I say: Nonsense. A Fabian plot, certainly — some Democrats were even nice enough to admit it — but Bolshevik? Maybe only on Glenn Beck’s show.
Greg Sargent spoke with Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, after the event:
Asked who won today’s face-off, Luntz said something that people on both sides would agree with.
“I call it in favor of the American people,” Luntz said. “I think it was good for everybody. I’ve never seen this before. I’ve never seen the President of one party interacting with the other party.”
Pressed on who had the upper hand, Luntz conceded: “Obama had the advantage. But he always has the advantage” because he’s President. Luntz said it was a boon to Obama, because he “demonstrated bipartisanship before a national audience.”
But Luntz said he’d counsel Republicans to do it again. “It was good for Republicans — it put them on the same level with the president and it will get their ideas heard,” he said.
“I would advise both sides to do it again,” Luntz said. “It should become a tradition. It demonstrates respect for the political process when both sides engage in debate.”