West Wing Briefing

Obama gets tough on jobless benefits

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2010; 9:57 AM

The gloves are off.

For the second time in three days, President Obama is planning to unload on his Republican adversaries, calling them out for blocking the passage of emergency unemployment insurance.

A White House official says the president will take to the Rose Garden at 10:30 Monday morning, where he will "have strong words" for the GOP lawmakers who have blocked the emergency legislation despite having supported identical measures under Republican presidents.

"And he will point out that they are calling for hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while telling working families that we can't afford to help them when they need it most," the official said Sunday night.

Maybe it's the polls, which are showing a steady decline in Obama's numbers. Or maybe it's just the frustration of another big victory -- passage of historic Wall Street reform -- while majorities of the public say they don't trust his leadership on the economy.

Or maybe it's just that basketball-playing instinct finally kicking in. You know, the sharp elbows he gives once in a while.

Whatever it is, the president of the United States is getting a little bit feisty. In his radio address Saturday morning, Obama unleashed a similar critique, accusing Republican senators of standing in the way of financial aid for middle America.

"They've got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don't need them and didn't even ask for them, but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help," Obama said. "And every day this goes on, another 50,000 Americans lose that badly needed lifeline."

In the heat of the 2008 campaign, Obama managed some tough rhetoric aimed at Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin. And at private fundraisers since he became president, he likes to poke fun at the other side, getting the Democratic crowd to chuckle at the expense of Republicans.

But this is different. The tone from Obama this weekend is tougher, and it's not aimed just at a partisan audience. It's aimed at the broader public, and the intent is clear -- to offer as stark a choice as possible between the Democrats and the Republicans ahead of the elections this fall.

He can't win the elections for the lawmakers; his political staff reminds them of that all the time. The comments from press secretary Robert Gibbs last weekend that the Democrats, mathematically, could lose the House was a subtle jab to that effect.

But Obama can help to shape the environment, and it seems like he is making it pretty clear that he's not going to stand by for the next four months and let the Republicans do whatever they want.

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