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Changing Washington Proves Harder Than Expected

By Dan Balz
When he began his campaign for the White House two years ago, President Obama acknowledged that he had not been in Washington very long, but at least long enough to know it needed to change. At his press conference Wednesday night marking his 100th day in office, Obama showed how Washington has begun to change him.

The Obama who appeared before the press in the East Room was no less confident than the candidate who decided to take one half of the best brand in the Democratic Party -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. From Chrysler to Pakistan, Obama expressed confidence that he could handle the toughest problems thrown his way.

But on one area, he admitted frustration in not making more progress. The political culture of Washington, he said, has been harder to crack apart than he had imagined. He said he hasn't given up, but he certainly seems to have redefined the terms by which he will judge success. Bipartisanship, as his top advisers have been saying lately, will no longer be defined by how many Republican votes he gets for his programs.

That answer came on the day he welcomed Sen. Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, a potential 60th -- and therefore filibuster-killing -- vote for a party that eight years ago was jumping for joy over the party switch by Vermont's Jim Jeffords that gave them a one-vote majority by which to counter then-President George W. Bush.

Now, with Specter in tow and Al Franken likely to join the Democrats soon, Obama commands majorities that no president since Lyndon B. Johnson has enjoyed. He is set, if he chooses, to trample the opposition on Capitol Hill, assuming he can hold his own forces together on critical votes.

"I am under no illusions that suddenly I'm going to have a rubber-stamp Senate," Obama said when asked the potential for one-party rule. "I've got Democrats who don't agree with me on everything, and that's how it should be." One of those Democrats is the newest: on the same day he was welcomed at the White House by the president and Vice President Biden, Specter voted against the president's budget.

Obama said he respects the co-equal status of Congress, knows that regional as well as political differences create divisions he will have to overcome on legislation and insisted that his efforts to reach out to Republicans have been genuine. But he added, "I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change."

He went on to say that, if bipartisanship is defined as "a situation in which basically, wherever there are philosophical differences, I have to simply go along with ideas that have been rejected by the American people in a historic election, you know, we're probably not going to make progress."

Obama cited three areas of possible cross-party cooperation. The first was health care. He acknowledged a significant gulf with Republicans on the question of whether health care reform should include the offering of a public insurance plan, but said there were other important elements of health care reform, such as reducing the costs of medical malpractice insurance where he and Republicans might agree.

"If I'm taking some of your ideas and giving you credit for good ideas, the fact that you didn't get 100 percent can't be a reason every single time to oppose my position," he said.

The other areas of potential cooperation, he said, are immigration and defense procurement. He singled out his 2008 rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, on both. McCain, he said, "has the right position" on immigration and added, "I would love to partner with him" in finally winning passage of a comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration reform, which eluded Bush because he couldn't bring enough conservatives in his own party along, might well be ripe for bipartisan approval, now that the Democratic ranks have been enhanced. How many other Republicans McCain could attract--assuming he is willing to work with Obama--is an open question, but perhaps enough to get the bill passed.

The president also noted that McCain is working with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on defense procurement reform, which the White House hopes to finish up soon.

Later in the press conference, Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, asked Obama to reflect on his 100 days by talking about what has surprised him most, enchanted him most, humbled him most and troubled him most. When he got to what troubles him, he returned to the hard nut of Washington's culture.

He said he was "less troubled, but, you know, sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow. That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises."

Obama said he wished there could be a time-out on political game-playing, at least until next year. "That hasn't happened as much as I would have liked," he said.

After 100 days, Obama has recalibrated his message from the campaign. Breaking from the Bush administration is the real change he intends to deliver. If he can change the political culture along with it, that's fine too. But he left no doubt Wednesday night about his real goals. While he still hopes to find areas of common ground, he said, "The majority will probably be determinative when it comes to resolving just hard, core differences that we can't resolve."

Obama added one final thought designed to prod Republicans to find some areas where they can find compromise with the White House and the Democrats. He pointed to his own positive approval ratings and implicitly pointed to surveys that show the public lacking confidence in the Republican Party. "Simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy," he said.

Whether any of that will bring about a change in the cooperative relationship is doubtful, given the size of the Democratic majorities and the conclusion of Republicans that, in the domestic arena at least, they are prepared to take their chances in solid opposition. What Obama showed Wednesday night is that he is prepared to move ahead on those terms and take his chances with the voters in 2010 and 2012.

By Lexie Verdon  |  April 30, 2009; 10:07 AM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Dan Balz's Take  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Lots of Headlines, Little News at Obama Presser
Next: Feeding the Swine-Flu Frenzy


@ cestlavie1...

STFU! You are just STUPID!

Posted by: darmar40 | April 30, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Liberal Basher - I'm utterly confused? Is your pay grade some kind of mystery $125K or something? If you make $70K a year, then you just got a tax cut...Oh wait a minute - you're parroting the consistent Republican line of "tax and spend Democrats" that has existed for 30 years. Yes, the policies of President Obama will create a deficit; however, so did those of President Bush. Did you get a tax increase when President Bush was in office? ------------
Typical democrat, too stupid to read the full post. I hate both you and republicans. Idiot. Total fool... Just like your hero's LBJ, Harry Reed, and the tor who SHOULD BE SHOT: Nancy Pelosi Freaken traitor... you people are fools... So are the republicans, but democrats are bigger ones.

My complaint is simple.

Im paying for people too stupid to realize they couldn't afford house's. Sub morgage??? Ever hear of it. And the dem's under clinton started that crap. Harry Reed to be exact. Tell me why I should help bail out people too stupid to know they can't afford to afford a house.

I never bought a house. Want to know why?


Do I have a problem bailing out people that were making their payments over 20 years(10 years, 5 years) then lost their job? Nope, my issue is with people that couldn't afford it with the job they had.

And that is the problem with the democrats. They put into place a program that INTICES people to buy things they can't afford. Then blame the opposing party when reality hits and the their PLAN FAILS. Just like LBJ's and the great society which is the real reason this nation is bankrupt.

Posted by: LiberalBasher | April 30, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Call it Racism if you may, but it is my opinon that Barack Obama does not think like a "Jesse Jackson" - but rather like "Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism"...

During the last election Zionist Jews overwhemingly supported Barack Obama... But will MOVE.ON Org., American Zionism, and the ACLU - now shape the future of America with OBAMAMANIA ?

The Jerusalem Post noted that, the Republican Party is extremely Pro-Israel, so why are most Jews turning to the democratic Party? Arlen Specter, the only Jewish Republican member is also leaving the GOP, labeling the move , proof of Republican's dwindling appeal to American Jews... And why does George Soros, Obama most influential Jewish supporter (who donated to the PLO) - opposes the Israeli goverment of Benjamin Netanayu ?

Yet Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of a few remaining Republican moderates in the Senate and one of the two who joined Specter in voting for the stimulus, called her colleague's party defection another sign that the GOP needed to move toward the center.
"Ultimately, we're heading to having the smallest political tent in history, the way events have been unfolding," she said. "If the Republican Party fully intends to become a majority party in the future, it must move from the far right back toward the middle." (quote)

We have been asked many times, "How can you be anti-Zionist and at the same time support the State of Israel? A very good question indeed... that is why I highly recommend the following book:

Moses Hess: Prophet of Communism and Zionism_ by Shlomo Avineri is about the socialist thought of a German Jewish contemporary of Karl Marx. What makes Hess unique among his fellow radicals of the mid 19th century was that he came to advocate nationalist ideas for the Jewish people, and the establishment of a Jewish State in the Middle East as part of a larger socialist revolution in Europe. In his early childhood, Hess was raised observing traditional Orthodox Jewish customs, but in his teens rebelled against them. He studied at Hebrew schools and secular institutions on and off, but never received the comprehensive formal education like so many political radicals of that time. He was most influenced by the writings of the German theorist Hegel and the scientific-rationalist Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

As a secular agnostic, Hess rejected both Jewish and Christian theology but tried to put them in perspective as to how they would relate to modern socialist theory. (quote)

We would guess that where there is smoke, there is fire.

Posted by: hasinc67 | April 30, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

cestlavie1 wrote:
When the nation is led by a stupid then all hell break lose!
The stupid cannot think cannot judge cannot use his mind then what can you expect from the stupid?
This national stupidity is evolved from several stupids who chose a stupid to represent themselves in a stupid way!
The USA has deepened in the stupid life style and make the entire world look down on this nation and they don't even understand why so many stupids have made stupidity to create havoc to their nation as by picking a stupid to lead them into the stupid way!
Only a stupid person will allow his nation stay opened to invite more and more sickened people to swam the nation and create millions more hot spots of swine flu in all states and innundate the nation with swine flu pandemic! and it will become the too late to do anything to protect anyone in the USA!
4/30/2009 1:47:36 PM

Posted by: cestlavie1 | April 30, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

The hard right and hard left are still entrenched. As evidenced by this blog. Thank god there are not so many of them anymore. Watch out lefties. The Republicans have made themselves irrelevant. It could happen to you. As for Obama-You Go, Mr. President! You are doing a great job and I am extremely pleased I voted for you.

Posted by: mmrafferty | April 30, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Liberal Basher - I'm utterly confused? Is your pay grade some kind of mystery $125K or something? If you make $70K a year, then you just got a tax cut...Oh wait a minute - you're parroting the consistent Republican line of "tax and spend Democrats" that has existed for 30 years. Yes, the policies of President Obama will create a deficit; however, so did those of President Bush. Did you get a tax increase when President Bush was in office? The only reason that you could possibly, at this point in time, naturally assume that you are getting a tax increase is because you've been told that Democrats always raise your taxes.

My friend, do some research on how the Reagan tax cuts impacted state budgets and how the Bush tax cuts did as well - you'll find that your precious tax cuts eliminate services that we all depend on, whether they are road building, education or emergency services.

Oh, that's right - the standard conservative meme for the use of the money that we pay through taxes - "you're giving my money to someone who doesen't work"

I'd suggest making your world view a little more complex.

Posted by: JohnDinHouston | April 30, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

"Did the shrub get this kind of scrutiny in his first 100 days? Were the Democrats this vitriolic in their contempt for him?"

Of course they were. And deservedly so.

Posted by: dubya19391 | April 30, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

To the liberals that make these type of comments:
All the Republicans can come up with is "cut" the taxes for the wealthy few,screw the vast majority of americans.
I do not make over 100,000. Hell, I have a hard time making 70,000. Does that make me rich, nope. That makes me middle class.

Guess what dem's. I took more home in my pay under President Bush then I EVER EXPECT TO TAKE HOME under this administration.

Give tax breaks to the rich? When the hell did 70,000 a year become the classification of the rich.

No, I'm not an auto worker. No, I do not belong to a union. yes, I pay for my own health care.

I am middle class... When the rest of the middle class has to pay for a democrats spend spend spend ADMINISTRATION again... you will be out of office, AGAIN.

This time, I hope the hell we vote in a independent.... Anything BUT REPUBLICANS or DEMOCRATS.

your both fools... complete, utter fools.

Posted by: LiberalBasher | April 30, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

i think this sums up my earlier comments...

According to a Washington Post poll, only 12 per cent of respondents had a favourable opinion of Obama's US$787 billion economic stimulus package, O'Leary said.

Other polls have found that 57 per cent of Americans oppose cap and trade regulations and 75 per cent of Americans oppose gun control reform.

According to O'Leary, while Obama has the support of the American public, particularly thanks to the popularity of his wife, Michelle, his policies do not.

Posted by: Woodbridge45 | April 30, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who thinks that Dems are not overreaching does not understand politics.

Republicans merely need to sit back as the Democrats self destruct and bankrupt the country. They may not win in huge numbers in 2010, but this trend away from Democrats will become self evident closer to the voting day. The only "idea" they need to offer is cutting spending which is out of control. I hope everyone is enjoying the $$ being handed out. Inflation is likely to skyrocket as the value of the dollar become less and less.

The shame is nothing is really on track to getting passed anyways. too many moderate dems in the Senate to pass substantial health care reform, and these folks are even less likely to vote for climate change, as currently written.


Posted by: Woodbridge45 | April 30, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

When Lyndon Johnson smashed Goldwater in 1964, a liberal president had a compliant House and Senate to help him. LBJ made the most of the opportunity enlarging government with the bureaucracy of his War on Poverty. Government "programs" were devised out of whole cloth. Welfare "rights" were expanded to include payments to women who had children, with or without a husband. That changed Roosevelt's requirement that women be married. The US still feels the results of that change- over 70% of black children today are born out of wedlock. Riots wracked many US cities during LBJ's tenure in office. And poverty won the War on Poverty. Here we go again- a liberal is in charge of the country and he has the help of an adoring Congress.

Posted by: mhr614 | April 30, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Balz says "Obama commands majorities that no president since Lyndon B. Johnson has enjoyed." Not true. In 1976 Pres. Carter had stronger Democraric support in both the Senate and House, but he did not make as effective a use of what he had as Pres. Obama has.

Posted by: AppDev | April 30, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Obama needs to stop campaigning. By 2010 this moronic spending will start hitting. The taxes to start paying this enormous debt will start biting and the American people will realize how they have been sold down the river and now owe their soul to the company store.

Obama is on the TV saying the problem with the auto makers is with the management, never mentioning the bloated overhead and unsustainable costs of the unions. Unions are a cancer that needs to be dealt with starting with banning all government unions.

I see that they have now placed the monitors at the back of the room for Obama to read from instead of in the podium.

Wait to see who is going to be screwed in this process. Go take a look in the mirror. All failed companies need to be shown the way to the bankruptcy court instead of passing these debts off to the public. How much money have we already poured down this rat hole?

Posted by: Bubbette1 | April 30, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Did the shrub get this kind of scrutiny in his first 100 days? Were the Democrats this vitriolic in their contempt for him? Imagine if hes was confronted with all this during is first 100 days, would he be vilified like Obama? I think not. He (Bush)only got contempt after he did some extremely boneheaded things. All the Republicans can come up with is "cut" the taxes for the wealthy few,screw the vast majority of americans. They are really hurting and need some kind of relief, not a handout. Affordable medical, not 'FREE".No, lets have a tea bag party and complain about higher taxes that are not really affecting us, how our country and President are dragging us in to Socialism. on and on. Shut up and get out of the way, or better yet, leave if it is so bad. You are becoming the antiamerica that you spewed on the Dems

Posted by: woodard3 | April 30, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

as others have stated in previous threads, the Dems are their own worst enemy. Dems complain that the Repubs are in "lockstep", but the Dems are in "no step". for the first time in a "long" time we have at our hands the ability to shape the future for a vast amount of Americans, and it won't be happening because the Dems are shooting themselves all over the place.

Posted by: woodard3 | April 30, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Well if one uses the rationale that trying historically failed approaches is not change, then why does Obama seek to emulate the historically failed approaches of FDR and LBJ? FDR tried big government make work for 8 years and in 1939 his own right hand man and close confident had to frankly admit all of that spending did nothing to alleviate the depression. LBJ's failed approach was to unify the budget and add economic irresponsiblity by using the social security surplus to spend on a vast array of leftist programs. Obama's deficit spending on leftist programs is very similar to LBJ.

Do we need to try these old failed approaches all over again, or can we look to history to see how entitlment spending spirals out of control unchecked and realize that the US Government is horrible when it comes to financing and controlling entitlement spending?

Can Obama not apply the very same standard whereby he rejects Bush approaches to his Change?

Posted by: Wiggan | April 30, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Concerned14 asks QUO WARRANTO!

I would answer VOX POPULI!

Posted by: overed | April 30, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Uh Oh!

MSNBC Poll...Barry's First 100 Days Grade:

A - 32%

F - 39%

320K total votes

Say it ain't so, Barry! And MSNBC of all things. His bastion of Liberal hate mongers.

Posted by: FraudObama | April 30, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Another fake town-hall meeting, with pre-screened questions and telepromptor answers. Big deal.

The only slight diversion was when he went out of his way to criticize those "teabagging" Americans - regular folks who simply want their Gov't to try and stay on a budget. Not classy. Obama is an @ss

Posted by: pgr88 | April 30, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

President Obama is like no other President and this has nothing to do with his skin color. He is exactly what this country needed to move forward. As he said, he will make mistakes but will learn from them and continue to move forward.

I can only hope that America will continue to support him. The Republican Party need to stop acting like petulants kids and become responsible adults.

As for some polls who graded President Obama a C+ overall is outright shameful and proves again that the saying that a black person has to work 10 times harder before they get the credit they deserve.

It's not ok but I am sure this President already knows. I am so glad and hope that he continue proving his critics wrong.

Posted by: minnie2 | April 30, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse


The media may not yet be aware, but perhaps President Obama is learning that he must fully co-opt and disarm insidious bureaucratic intransigence (to put it mildly) before he can bring about his promised change.

Could there be a "nexus" between internal dissension and Monday's "terror buzzing" of Lower Manhattan by the backup Air Force One?

Perhaps we'll never know -- if we're lucky.

But the White House must ask and answer the question: What did certain security agencies and commands know, and when did they know it?

Posted by: scrivener50 | April 30, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

The 20% of Republicans in the U.S. Homeland are suffering from cognitive dissonance, brought on by Boss Limbaugh, Fox "News", Hannity and Beck, and Matt Drudge. They have nothing to offer, nothing. They whine, they *****, they moan, but that is all. Obama is a muslim socialist who was born in Kenya, blah, blah, blah. I give Obama a A-. regards

Posted by: postamerican | April 30, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

So bipartisan ship is not him accepting the Republican positions unquestionably, it's them accepting his that way. He's got his majorities, let him do what he wants, then when it all turns south, the Repubs can say "it wasn't us!"

Posted by: ronjaboy | April 30, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Prime time press conferences should focus on the most important issues of the day as part of the first 100 days since the conferences are intrusive on peoples's normal lives and not on Obama's psychological problems and whether he is capabable of handling all the problems of the office.

It's time for him to govern and solve problems which he has not done as yet.

Did last night's conference on prime time elicit questions
and answers that reflected progress on any of the country's major problems?

On the economy, especially with the second negative 6.1 GDP that morning?

On the Iraq/Afghan/Pakistan problem areas?

On the Iranian nuclear development program et al?

The answer is a resounding no!

The only cause this "kabuki dance" press conference advanced was the celebrity hood of the President and the continuation of Axelrod's gigantic public relations effort to promote, maintain and enhance his Fantasyman President.

What a waste of time, money, and energy that could have been better spent on something constructive.

Obama should not be using prime time controlled press conferences for "Dr. FEEL GOOD" sessions.


Posted by: Concerned14 | April 30, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

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