White House keeps losing votes -- and loving it

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010; 10:13 AM

In the last two days, the White House has lost two straight votes in the Senate that would have moved the massive overhaul of the financial system along. The White House is likely to lose a third Wednesday as a unified Republican Party uses procedural rules to block the bill from being debated.

But don't feel bad for the West Wing. Obama aides are practically giddy about the turn of events.

Not that they don't want the bill to succeed. They do --and soon. Passing Wall Street reform will help clear the decks for a packed agenda that includes confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee, energy legislation and maybe even consideration of immigration changes.

But senior White House officials tell the Briefing that they are "surprised" -- pleasantly so -- at the GOP decision to block consideration of the legislation.

Ahead of the first vote on Monday evening, the assumption inside the White House was that Republicans would back down and allow the debate to begin, said one top Obama adviser, who asked for anonymity to discuss White House strategy. The fact that they didn't plays "right into their narrative," the adviser said.

He called it a "proof point" for the American people as they try to assess which party wants to stick it to Wall Street and which party is trying to protect the banks and institutions from new and onerous regulations if the legislation passes.

Republicans have sought to explain their opposition as a principled effort to provide negotiators from both sides more time to complete the complex work of reaching agreement. GOP leaders insist that they, too, want tough, new rules for Wall Street. But inside the White House, Obama aides believe those explanations will fall flat.

As they try to game out the political implications of the fight, Obama aides insist the best thing for the president is to get a new, sweeping law that reins in some of the practices that helped spark the recession. They believe the final tally on the legislation could include as many as a dozen or more Republicans, who have made the same calculation about their own political futures.

But in the meantime, the White House and Democratic allies are relishing the rhetorical gift that Republicans have given them. They have once again described the GOP as the party of "no." And they have sought to paint them as the defenders of greedy and irresponsible Wall Street moguls.

"It's the Republican Party that, again, seems to think that the best way forward is to keep what we have in place now, which led us -- led us to the brink of economic collapse just a few years ago," press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday, even before the Republicans had voted no.

Gibbs repeated that line to reporters frequently , practically going out of his way to offer that answer to whatever question was asked.

It took little time for the Democratic National Committee to make use of the votes. On Tuesday, the group's "Organizing for America" arm sent out mass e-mails, blasting GOP senators for the two votes.

"Both parties have worked for months crafting a bipartisan Wall Street reform bill. But, just hours ago, Senate Republicans -- including Senator George Voinovich -- voted for a second time to protect their allies on Wall Street and block reform," one such e-mail said, referring to the Republican senator from Ohio.

According to OFA spokeswoman Lynda Tran, the e-mails are part of a concerted effort on the part of the Democratic Party.

"As you can see, on the heels of the two votes in the U.S. Senate yesterday and today, OFA is taking an aggressive stance -- calling out the opponents of Wall Street reform by name in each state -- and ramping up grassroots pressure nationally," she said.

Can't the Republicans erase whatever concerns voters might have by eventually voting for the legislation? By Tuesday night, several Republicans were already starting to suggest that they plan to vote for a final bill when a deal is struck.

Perhaps, said the White House adviser. But the West Wing and Democrats are trying to build a case against Republicans this year, he said. And this is another data point -- one that people understand.

What about Obama's connections to the same Wall Street characters? The president took almost $1 million from employees of Goldman Sachs, the same firm whose executives were berated by members of Congress during a live hearing on Tuesday.

White House aides say the public is likely to dismiss that argument because both sides took money from Wall Street. And they point out that voters are likely to look more favorably on the politician -- in this case, Obama -- who is seeking tougher regulations on the very people who gave him money.

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