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Obama Tests the Bully Pulpit

Obama with business leaders at the White House this morning. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(For an explanation of today's format change, please read this post.)

Spending time with them didn't seem to do the trick, so President Obama took to the bully pulpit this morning to increase the pressure on Congressional Republicans to support his stimulus plan.

Surrounding himself with top business leaders in the White House's Roosevelt Room, Obama said that everyone is going to need to make some compromises. He reminded Washington's elected leaders of their own culpability. And he said American workers and companies are hurting and "don't have a moment to spare." Here are his prepared remarks.

"[W]e must each do our share," he said. "Part of what led our economy to this perilous moment was a sense of irresponsibility that prevailed from Wall Street to Washington. That's why I called for a new era of responsibility in my Inaugural Address last week – an era where each of us chips in so that we can climb our way out of this crisis – executives and factory floor workers, educators and engineers, health care professionals and elected officials.

"As we discussed in our meeting a few minutes ago, corporate America will have to accept its own responsibilities to its workers and to the American public. But these executives also understand that without wise leadership in Washington, even the best-run businesses cannot do as well as they might. They understand that what makes an idea sound is not whether it's Democratic or Republican, but whether it makes good economic sense for their workers and companies...

"I know that some are skeptical of the size and scale of this recovery plan. I understand that skepticism, given some of the things that have happened in this town in the past. That's why this recovery plan will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my Administration accountable."

Whether today's prodding and scolding will work any better than yesterday's wooing remains uncertain.

Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post that Obama yesterday "devoted nearly three hours to separate closed-door meetings with House and Senate Republicans, an investment that is unlikely to result in new support for the relief package but could help clear a path to final passage. Participants in the meetings said Obama conceded that both the House and Senate versions of the bill had been larded with Democratic spending priorities and sought to reassure GOP lawmakers that their concerns would receive consideration during final negotiations...

"But the final product is certain to fall well short of the Republican ideal of seeing a package heavy with tax breaks and light on new domestic spending, and both the White House and Democratic leaders worry that GOP lawmakers will use procedural tactics to stall a final vote as they seek to erode support for the plan with the public. The big Democratic majority in the House makes it all but certain the bill will pass the chamber today....

"Republicans praised Obama's candor and willingness to reach across the aisle, but said he conceded little ground and probably won few, if any, converts. He staunchly defended one of their least favorite provisions, a $500-per-individual tax credit that can be claimed by people who make too little to pay income taxes but currently pay payroll taxes. Republicans oppose the so-called refundable credits, arguing that they are a form of welfare.

"'Feel free to whack me over the head, because I probably will not compromise on that part,' Obama said of the refundability portion, according to a GOP participant who took notes during the House meeting. 'I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself.'"

Meanwhile, there are competing views on just how transformative the current stimulus package is.

Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post that "some Democrats on Capitol Hill and other administration supporters are voicing a.... critique: that the plan may fall short in its broader goal of transforming the American economy over the long term....

"Their disappointment centers on the relatively small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs. While each serves a purpose, the critics say, they add up to less than the sum of their parts, and fall far short of the transformative New Deal-like vision many of them had entertained."

But Robert Pear writes in the New York Times that the Democrats are already using the bill as "a tool for rewriting the social contract with the poor, the uninsured and the unemployed, in ways they have long yearned to do...

"Altogether, the economic recovery bill would speed $127 billion over the next two and a half years to individuals and states for health care alone, a fact that has Republicans fuming that the stimulus package is a back door to universal health coverage."

And Sam Dillon writes in the New York Times: "The economic stimulus plan that Congress has scheduled for a vote on Wednesday would shower the nation's school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education's current budget."

Finally, it's worth noting that Obama's outreach yesterday was basically unprecedented.

Jeff Zeleny writes in the New York Times: "Presidents seldom travel to Capitol Hill. Protocol generally holds that Congressional leaders come to the White House — at the president's invitation — when it comes time to negotiate legislation. But there Mr. Obama was, standing before an array of microphones without a presidential seal anywhere in sight."

Carolyn Lochhead writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "It's a rare sight in Washington to see the president walking the halls of the Congress, stopping to talk to reporters in the usual hallway haunts, and rarer still to see him meet with the opposition party to hear their ideas on the first big legislation of his presidency.

"Still stranger was this: The leaders of the out-of-power party, thrashed in two consecutive elections and the subject of all this presidential courting, told their members to vote against the president before he even arrived to hear their grievances.

"Hours before President Obama arrived Tuesday for GOP-only talks in the House and Senate on the $825 billion economic stimulus bill, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio and his deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, told a closed-door meeting of Republicans to vote against the bill because it has too much government and will not revive the economy."

Nancy Benac writes for the Associated Press: "Obama may have been premature when, in his inaugural address, he proclaimed an end to 'the petty grievances, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.'

"Presidents past have shown that in the hard realities of governing, it will be extremely difficult to deliver on his lofty sentiments."

But, as Benac notes: "Whatever the difficulty of the mission, Obama's early efforts to reach out and chart a new course on both domestic and foreign policy have been both substantive and symbolic.

"Since becoming president:

"* His first trip to Capitol Hill was to pay a visit not to Democrats in Congress but to opposition Republicans....

"* His first television interview went to Al-Arabiya, an Arabic-language satellite TV network....

"* His first cave-in was to dump money for family planning from his giant economic stimulus bill, representing a giveback to Republicans."

By Dan Froomkin  |  January 28, 2009; 12:36 PM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Looking Backward
Next: Cartoon Watch


President Obama seems to be going out of his way to be nice to Congressional Republicans, whose leadership don't appear to realize just how thin the ice they're standing on has become. One more Senate loss and the Republicans will be reduced to complete impotence.

Senate Republicans at least seem to see the danger, but their House leadership is still pouring salt into whatever wounds they can find. Maybe they've already resigned themselves to insignificance and are just resisting to their politicaly-crafted, safely conservative districts will keep sending them back to Washington. But it will hurt their party as a whole, as the Republican brand is becoming increasingly irrelevant the majority of the electorate nationwide.

Democrats have gone through two "generational" changes since the Carter presidency, the first when Clinton was elected and the second with Obama. Republicans are still clinging to Reagan, who was the right man for his time but whose dedicated acolytes are increasingly out of tune concerning America's current problems.

Republicans still have some good ideas, but as long as the party stubbornly clings to the strategies (now failing) developed 30 years ago that got us into our current mess it will only ensure their continued decline.

Posted by: Gallenod | January 28, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe Dan Froomkin is still doing the White House watch. His solid Democratic credentials guarantee that there won't be someone from the Post scrutinizing Democrats, with Froomkin leading the cheers.

But I guess he needs something to do with the pom poms he saved from the Clinton years. So let's hear a big cheer for Obama!

Posted by: thuff7 | January 28, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, do conservatives and other semi-life forms have nothing else to drool out except "librul meedja kornspiracy"?

Posted by: m1ke_h | January 28, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

yes to you
yes to obama
no to new format

Posted by: angryamerican1 | January 28, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

not real thrilled with the new format lacks the normal depth and for the writer...I've enjoyed your column for a long time...and want to continue reading it....
As for the President's efforts...he is to be commended...the obstructionism that the Republican's are plotting and implementing is typical...and frankly unacceptable. They have not been excluded from the process...they have instead acted like the spoiled rotten children that we know they are...the voters spoke clearly in November...the Republican's either need to get with the NEW program.

Posted by: constwkr | January 28, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

New format is okay, but column seems distinctly briefer.

I don't worry about Froomkin holding the Obama Administration's feet to the fire as needed.

My greatest disappointment is Obama's endorsement of two approaches to criminal justice, one for those who are well connected (who don't have to face prosecution) and the other for the rest of us (who do get prosecuted when we break the law and are caught). So the US is now a nation that allows its officials to torture prisoners, hold innocent people in indefinite detention, spies on its own citizens, and never accepts accountability for it.

Posted by: Leisureguy | January 28, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

OK, I give up:

Where are the cartoons? Am I missing a link somewhere?

Please continue to publish your daily digest of cartoons. I know I'm not alone in saying it was a highlight of my day.

I am glad to see that your voice and extensive fact collecting have survived, unscathed.

Posted by: wistlo | January 28, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

To wistlo, looking for the cartoons--Dan will be posting several mini-blogs a day, instead of one big column. Flip thru the "previous" posts or just go to for today's toon watch.

Posted by: MaeveDu | January 28, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

We have too many problems right now that require immediate attention...I too feel that Bush/Cheney and the gang need to be held accountable...the one thing the President could do is simply issue a Pardon to the gang...which in fact would deem them criminally liable for their crimes...I strongly suspect that the international community will at some point push the war crimes issue...the pardon would also have the added benefit of giving them all a Scarlet Letter to deal with the rest of their sorry lives.

Posted by: constwkr | January 28, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I want to weigh in on this that I loved the old format. Like many others, I could print this column out and read a top-notch summary of the day's events. My one request for the new format is that you offer a digest version that compiles the day's posts into one easily printed post.
Thanks. This column has been required daily reading for me for the past 5 years.

Posted by: kristiankicinski | January 28, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Hi Dan.

Just want to add my name to the long list of people who say your work has kept us sane for the last few years.

I'm also a fan of the print option. I use it to get through my time on the stationary bike at the gym, in fact it's how I would bribe myself into going on those 'don't feel like it' days.

Please reconsider consolidating your column at the end of the day.


Posted by: STTPinOhio | January 28, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

wow, reading the comments, it seems people REALLY REALLY hate change. i guess this is why i'll be stuck cramming filthy, crumpled 1-dollar bills into my wallet for the rest of my life, instead of a nice shiny usable coin or a crispy $2 note.

long live foolish consistancy!

Posted by: FlyingSpaghettiMonster | January 28, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I think the Republicans are viewing Obama's outreach program as naivete but in the end it will be the Republicans who will look like the fools. This morning's comments I think are the first brush stroke that Obama will use to let the American people know that the Republicans don't want what's best for the average American and would rather play at being obstructionist. Of course Obama will never say that but he will put that impression out there. Hillary and McCain/Palin tried the same tactics as the Republicans are using during the election and see how far that got them. Watching Boehner, McConnell and Cantor go up against Obama is almost akin to seeing a deer caught in the headlights, except in this case the deer is smarter because it knows something is coming! The Republicans are unfortunately for them not so aware.

Posted by: dre7861 | January 28, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself."

Classic line! O tells Repubs go ahead and boo me at the free throw line, it's still going to be nothing but net. But as an homage to Dick Cheney, the Fox News frequency still transmits to to the White House.

Posted by: Patriot3 | January 28, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Hi Dan: I admit that today's blog/column is a surprise. I guess that Obama is not the only one with "Change" on his agenda. I'm not sure what I think about your new approach, but like our new president, I'm willing to withhold any snap judgement and see how things develop. Will you continue to hold your biweekly online chats? If not, I really will be upset!

Posted by: MillPond2 | January 28, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Your column has been one of the "can't miss reads" for me for some years now. Hope the old magic of your work shines through this new format WP seems to value.

Substantively, it's too bad that the Republican leadership made up the minds of their members to oppose oppose oppose before they discussed anything directly with the President, who extended himself considerably by even bothering to ask their view - in contrast to 8 full years of Bush ignoring everybody who didn't bend completely his way. Wouldn't want the facts of the situation to disrupt their effort at ideological suicide for themselve and our country

Posted by: Mill_in_Mn | January 28, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Congress backed Bush's invasion of Iraq without giving it proper scrutiny and its failure led to a huge injustice and an illegal invasion.

Congress has so far, without proper scrutiny, supported the bailout.

When will it be appropriate for Congress to pause so that it can look closely at Obama's proposed spending program and expected outcomes? Afterall, Obama will put the nation into hock?

Posted by: robertjames1 | January 28, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

What motivated the change in the column?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it . . .

Posted by: dowert1 | January 28, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I am sure that all the GOP is doing is continuing their "starve the beast" philosophy to offload government to their private business friends and contributers by ruining our government for all but the incredibly wealthy or incredibly stupid.

Posted by: blackmask | January 28, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I like the new format, but of course I am familiar with the format since it is the same as a blog. I like it, also, because then we get more Froomkin more of the time!!

Posted by: aevans11 | January 28, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Ack! Where are the five pages of reading? Where are the subheadlines? Nonono unless you're willing to post many more times a day. Please?

Posted by: sc1128 | January 28, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

My major comment about your new format is that it is harder to print out, so that I can read it later or away from my computer. When I do try to print, the typeface is so small, it is harder for me to read. How about putting in a print command to avoid these problems?

Roberto Antonio Hussein in Utah

Posted by: reder01 | January 28, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Dan I've read WHW for years; its a great column, now blog. I don't mind the mini-blog format but i agree with kristiankicinski: its basically unprintable!
Re: the substance of the column, to paraphrase Bob Hebert- I'm glad President Obama's not listening to the guys who got us into this mess in the first place!

Posted by: Vizier6 | January 28, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I'm with those many who do not like your new format, for many of the same reasons. I guess it's your blog and you can do as you wish, but you'll lose me. I liked the daily summary of what's in the media about the White House, and I liked it in a form that I could easily print out to sit down and read without staring at a screen. I do frequently go back and follow your leads to original sources; I am NOT interested in the commentary of others.

I DO like the new graphic, but that's about all. It was nice and simple; you've made it too hard for me to use.

Posted by: waggin | January 28, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

First, I agree that Obama is being way too nice to the GOP and that the congressional Democratic leadership needs to stop their typical pattern of caving everytime the GOP barks. We just had a big blue tsunami 3 months ago - MANDATE, folks, now use it!

Second, congress should not be leading this train, but following Obama in it. Check out's latest graph on Obama's and congress' average approval ratings. Congress' approval rating is barely above Obama's DISAPPROVAL rating. If they want any hope of improving it, they need to back the guy the American people are placing their trust in.

Finally, new format... I applaud Mr. Froomkin's effort at innovation, but I prefer the old format. This new one requires me to hunt through several areas to keep up; old format was "one-stop shopping." Even the idea of more than one post a day has it's drawbacks - after reading the old post I knew I had gotten my Froomkin Fix for the day and was on to other sites, now I'll have "check back" to see if anything has been added... I vote for a return to the original, call it: Froomkin Classic, if you like!

Posted by: cedartrees | January 28, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

I miss the old format partially because I could quickly search commentors' previous entries and their profiles across other blogs.

As long as your news hole is as large, I'm learn to live with it.

I do like the preview function. This is long overdue.

I'm sure this was an editor's decision as lowly scribes at newspapers don't get to make decisions. (or that's what was drilled into my head in J-school several millennia ago).

More later on the content of today's column.

Posted by: boscobobb | January 28, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

I love the new bloggy format -- it's much more flexible, and you'll be able to say so much more. And for chrissakes, who prints stuff out anymore, anyway? It's the 21st Century, people!

Posted by: rachel16 | January 28, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Also, I miss the recommend button.

Posted by: boscobobb | January 28, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Yo "O", remember you got to dance with the ones that brung ya!
If the GOPers don't want to help now they never will.
Back to the base.

Posted by: samellison | January 28, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

Love your column. Have been reading it regularly (assiduously, avidly, fervently, eagerly, delightedly) since first stumbling upon it during the Abu Ghraib revelations. To say that it has become a primary source of my political information-gathering is no exaggeration. I, too, like other regulars am a little put off by the new format. I don't like to read long articles on the computer screen. I usually print them out and read them when I have a little free time. The new format is not conducive to that. Now that I live in Europe, your column is more important to me than ever, for information I can't get anywhere else. I'm not going to print out every entry, including readers' comments. So, please, re-consider this new format. I'd hate to lose you as an information source (and dare I say, as a friend?) because of some formatting mishegas. In any case, love the work you do and think it's really very important.
Please RE-CONSIDER. Thanks...

Posted by: marrap | January 29, 2009 3:21 AM | Report abuse

Blog format: More Change we can believe in.

Posted by: NeilSagan | January 29, 2009 3:52 AM | Report abuse

Blog format: please add [print] so we can read it wide format with fewer ads.

Posted by: NeilSagan | January 29, 2009 3:53 AM | Report abuse

Please add me to the list of longtime readers who feels as if he sat down for a meal and received only the salad ... and worst of all, no dessert (the cartoon links). As many have noted, I too would like to have a single page summary of all the blog posts for a given day.

Posted by: daegga | January 29, 2009 5:50 AM | Report abuse

Don't care for the new format. I like the comprehensive feel of the old one.

Even if it is the same amount of information.

This change smacks of the same philosophy that gives us sound bites instead of a story.

I want the whole works together, in context, not some chopped up piecemeal blog.

Posted by: ostrom808 | January 29, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I see it as a smart move. The Republicans called for a no vote before the meeting, further solidifying their preception that they were unwilling to help support the bill. Now Obamma, gives Presidential time, and can use this ammunition to show the GOP doesn't care about cooperating. I think he outsmarted them, but then again they are essentially impotent politically anyway. It must be something when power turns a 180.

Posted by: fredfromupstateny | January 29, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

kristiankicinski 'daily digest idea': +1

Posted by: toweringqs | January 29, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

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