The golf summit on Saturday may not have resolved the partisan argument over the deficit and the debt ceiling or the legality of the U.S. military operation in Libya. But some good came of it, at least for the victors.
The bipartisan pairing of President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) won the 18th hole and the match against Vice President Biden, thought to be the strongest player in the group, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R). To the winners go the spoils, in this case $2 each.
No trash talk or spiking of the football — Obama, in a different context, has said that’s not his style. Even the post-match analysis was vetted first by the White House and Boehner’s office before being released to the media in all its anodyne glory:
“The foursome had a great time and really enjoyed playing golf at Joint Base Andrews today,” the statement said.
What a few hours on the links provided Saturday was what advisers had hoped for: 18 holes of back-patting civility, and a 19th hole of cold drinks and conversation with service members inside the clubhouse at Andrews.
The splitting-up of Republicans and Democrats avoided the awkward question — “Who won?” — that would have been asked had Obama and Boehner played against each other. Teaming up, the town’s most powerful Democrat and Republican shared a win.
Advisers said they expected some discussion, perhaps in the side-by-side seating of the golf carts, of the debt ceiling and deficits, the war powers resolution and the war in Afghanistan. It’s unclear, though, how far along those talks got in a down-to-the-wire match.
In what little of the match that reporters could witness, Obama and Boehner shared a cart, with Obama behind the wheel early on.
He has fantasized in public appearances about renting a car and driving himself again after years of the limo life as president. Darting around the cart paths of the East Course at Andrews is about as close as he’s come to living that out.
The course itself clearly represented a presidential advantage. Obama plays there most weekends he’s in town, and on Saturday the foursome hacked it about a quarter turn around the Beltway from where the best players in the world contested the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.
Cooling off over drinks afterward, the foursome watched some of the tournament on television with service members.
Obama has taken to golf with an enthusiasm that has sometimes alarmed the more blue-collar base of his party.
His advisers have said that, for Obama, getting away from the cramped confines of the White House grounds — now doubling as a construction site in front of the West Wing — is as much a part of his passion for the game as the tee-to-green aspect.
And, of course, there’s the smoking aspect, too. Obama has said he has kicked the habit with no small amount of difficulty — at the White House it’s always the wrong week to stop smoking cigarettes or end other bad, if soothing, habits.
But Boehner has made no such claim. How many, if any, cigarettes were smoked on the fairways Saturday remains a mystery.
Obama’s abilities on the course remain something of a mystery as well.
The president’s handicap has been located somewhere between 17 and 24, likely a good deal higher than the experienced Biden and Boehner, who have had a longer time in Washington to stroll the links with colleagues, supporters, lobbyists and the like.
Kasich, a fiscal hawk who once chaired the House Budget Committee, was something of a wild card, though probably not in a good way given the outcome.
The pool of reporters who accompany the president got a glimpse only of the foursome as they played the par-5 first hole.
According to the pool account, Kasich, wearing an Ohio State University shirt, missed a 30-foot putt, then tapped in for par.
Next up, Biden knocked in a 15-footer to make what the pool believed was bogey — not good on a par 5.
Wearing long pants and a white polo, Obama then crouched down to line up his shot before just missing a 12-foot putt. No gimmes in this one, apparently — Obama tapped in for par.
Boehner, as the nearest to the hole after a nice approach shot, sunk a short putt for par. He got a pat on the back from the president as they headed for the cart.
With that, the group disappeared onto the next hole, emerging a few hours later with a rare bipartisan victory and a bag full of problems still to solve.