Now that President Obama and Congress finally appear headed toward a resolution to the debt crisis, the reviews are coming in on how they conducted themselves during the long negotiations.
“Messy,” Obama called it during a brief appearance before the cameras in the White House briefing room on Sunday.
“A circus,” his spokesman, Jay Carney, summed up during his turn at the lectern Monday.
And the public at large? “Ridiculous,” “disgusting” and “stupid” are just a few of the most popular adjectives used to describe how the nation’s top elected officials handled the situation, according to a new poll.
So how much blame does the president accept for the Barnum & Bailey-like atmosphere of the past several weeks? This reporter posed that question to Carney at his daily briefing Monday:
Washington Post: You’ve used words like “It was very messy,” “a circus.” I think the president himself said that the crisis was imposed by Washington on the rest of America. I mean, there’s a sense that it was self-imposed, a self-created crisis. In retrospect, then, what could the president and the White House have done differently over the past month that would have averted such a self-imposed crisis, sort of in terms of performance, in terms of managing this?
Jay Carney: Well, I’m sure we’ll all have time to look back at this, and we’ll read your tick-tocks with great interest when you write them, about how it all unfolded. I mean, we feel that the president made very clear what his priorities were. He tried to force the process forward at every juncture through — beginning with his framework through to the creation right after that of the negotiating body led by the vice president; his sideline — offline negotiations with the speaker of the House; his constant exhortations to Congress to be willing to compromise, because the American people so demanded compromise.
It is simply a fact that we have a divided government and we have some divergent views here, and that resolving — reaching compromise is not always easy, but we believe that it is important to note that we achieved that, and that that is a building block going forward. We hope so.
WP: But if it’s a circus, and it was messy, does the White House share a responsibility and feel like —
Carney: Well, I just think — I think I answered the question. I think I laid out the steps that this president took. He’s obviously not an elected member of Congress and cannot control the approach taken by the 535 members of that body.
Though the White House might be keen on laying most of the blame at the feet of Congress, particularly House Republicans, others were more than willing to point out some of the president’s alleged missteps.
Republican pollster Whit Ayers said he was “stunned” that Obama “never was willing to put even the outlines of a plan on the table.”
Ayers also called Obama’s emotional news conference on July 22, after House Speaker John Boehner called off negotiations, another poor decision. During that appearance, a visibly frustrated Obama said Boehner had failed to return his call and had left him at the alter, and the president wondered whether Republicans “can say yes to anything.”
“The role of the president is to do whatever it takes to bring key actors together,” Ayers said in a telephone interview Sunday. “Instead, he ended up angrily calling [House Republicans] children. It does not strike me as the way a real leader goes about forging a deal.”