After three days of stepping back from public view, President Obama reentered the debate over the deadlocked debt-ceiling negotiations Friday, delivering televised remarks in the White House Diplomatic reception room and dispatching aides to wage a final push in arenas ranging from Capitol Hill to Twitter.
Obama said that political leaders could still find a way “out of this mess. But we are almost out of time.” During his six-minute address, Obama added that a failure to find compromise to lift the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and reduce the deficit before Tuesday’s deadline would mean that the country lacked “a triple-A political system to match our triple-A credit rating.”
White House aides, including budget director Jack Lew and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, fanned out to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, while the president’s communications team took the argument to social media networks. Obama’s official Twitter feed, which has 9.4 million followers, began publishing Twitter account names of Republican lawmakers and encouraged followers to “tweet” their feelings about the need to compromise.
“If you want to see a bipartisan compromise — a bill that can pass both houses of Congress and that I can sign — let your members of Congress know,” Obama said during his remarks. “Make a phone call. Send an e-mail. Tweet. Keep the pressure on Washington, and we can get past this.”
Since Obama’s negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner collapsed last week, the president had begun to look sidelined in the negotiations as Boehner (R) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) hashed out their own plans. But when Boehner delayed a vote late Thursday night on a measure that would slash $1 trillion through spending cuts and temporarily lift the debt ceiling, the White House saw an opening to reenter the debate.
The stakes are high, not just for the economy but for the president’s political fortunes heading into his 2012 reelection campaign. New polling numbers suggest the voters have been unimpressed with Obama’s performance during the debt-ceiling debate – with his once-sizeable reelection advantage evaporating in a matter of weeks..
A survey published this week by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that just 41 percent of voters want to see Obama reelected next year, compared to 40 percent who favor a Republican. In May, Obama led by 11 points, 48-37. The explanation: The number of independents wanting an Obama victory fell from 42 percent in May to 31 percent now.
On Capitol Hill, as Republicans have accused Obama of failing to present a detailed plan of his own, some Democrats have quietly worried that the president was not a strong enough presence in negotiations. Several lobbyists for key liberal organizations said in interviews this week that many activists on the left are furious that the White House, in its quest for independent voters, has so enthusiastically bought into a deficit-cutting agenda – weakening the White House’s bargaining stance.
One Democrat facing reelection next year, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, took some swipes at Obama during a feisty Senate floor speech late Thursday in which he apologized to American families.
“I can only imagine the anger and disgust they have at witnessing a broken government and a president and members of Congress who can’t seem to even agree sometimes on what day it is — let alone how to solve our nation’s debt crisis,” Manchin said.
In a searing critique that was making waves online, Ken Langone, a founder of Home Depot and former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, told CNBC interviewers this week that Obama was being “unpresidential” and “petulant.” He accused Obama of dividing the country with rhetoric in which the president has taken on corporate jet owners and hedge fund managers, saying “the destruction he is inflicting by his behavior will carry on long after we have settled the debt limit.”
White House aides say Obama has been fully engaged this week, trying to coax lawmakers into a deal. Valerie Jarrett, a senior Obama adviser, told Reuters that the president has been “getting absolutely no sleep.”
“He’s working tirelessly, meeting with his economic team, doing a lot of outreach, exploring all kinds of possibilities for compromise,” she said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday that Obama can only do so much as House Republicans continue to debate the Boehner bill.
“Because Congress has to take action to resolve the issue … we do have to wait for that process to play out before we can get focused on legitimately solving this problem,” Carney said. “We continue to have conversations as we wait for the House to finish this business of theirs.”
The long-term political impact on Obama depends on a lot of factors still unresolved — such as what the final deal looks like, how future debates shape up on entitlements and taxes, and whether the economy starts to pep up.
Democratic pollster David Beattie said Obama still enjoys far more advantages than the GOP, particularly given the unpopularity of lawmakers in both parties.
The budget debate “hurts Obama, but I think it hurts the Republicans worse,” Beattie said. “It’s easier for Obama to look better in the end because he’s one person standing up to a Congress that’s seen as ineffective.”