How the president navigates that balance could determine whether the outcome of the crisis proves a political plus for him or a drag that further endangers his reelection prospects.
Obama reentered the public debate Friday after three days out of view, using remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room to call again for bipartisan compromise and asking Americans to pressure lawmakers through phone calls, e-mails and online activism.
“Tweet,” the president said. “Keep the pressure on Washington.”
Obama dispatched White House aides, including Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob J. Lew and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
And though Obama said Friday that the “time for putting party first is over,” he enlisted help from his 2012 reelection campaign — which sent to its 9.4 million Twitter followers the names of GOP lawmakers to be targeted for pressure and began a log tabulating calls by supporters to Republican offices.
White House officials insisted Friday that Obama was deeply involved all week, despite his low profile. He had canceled fundraising events and cleared his schedule, and as Jarrett told Reuters, has been “working tirelessly, meeting with his economic team, doing a lot of outreach, exploring all kinds of possibilities for compromise.”
The Friday effort followed three days in which Republicans regularly accused Obama of shirking his leadership duties and some Democrats groused privately that he was not putting enough of his own political capital on the line.
Obama’s public presence in the debate has wavered from week to week.
Earlier this month, the president appeared eager to be the chief broker — hosting lawmakers for repeated West Wing meetings. In a flurry of televised appearances, Obama veered between demanding bipartisan cooperation and likening Congress members to procrastinating schoolchildren.
Since Obama’s negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner had collapsed July 22, the president had begun to look sidelined in the negotiations as Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) hashed out their own plans.
But when Boehner delayed a vote late Thursday on a plan that would slash $1 trillion through spending cuts and temporarily lift the debt ceiling — stymied by tea party conservatives demanding more cuts and a balanced-budget amendment — the White House saw an opening to reenter the debate.
Democrats also began to view the House GOP’s struggles as a sign that the tea party movement, a galvanizing force for Republicans in the 2010 elections, may prove more complicated for the GOP next year. Conservatives remain energized, particularly in their quest to defeat Obama. But Democrats now hope to accuse the GOP’s tea party wing, along with the presidential candidates appealing to its members, of pushing the country to the brink of financial crisis.