News & Politics

Meadowchik
Bob Woodward's Book Detailing Obama's Failure to Lead
September 30, 2012 at 1:33 PM

Here's the ABC News article summarizing many of Woodward's observations and interviews:

"An explosive mix of dysfunction, miscommunication, and misunderstandings inside and outside the White House led to the collapse of a historic spending and debt deal that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were on the verge of reaching last summer, according to revelations in author Bob Woodward's latest book.

The book, "The Price of Politics," on sale Sept. 11, 2012, shows how close the president and the House speaker were to defying Washington odds and establishing a spending framework that included both new revenues and major changes to long-sacred entitlement programs. "The Price of Politics" examines the struggles between Obama and the Congress for the three and a half years, between 2009 and the summer of 2012. It offers exclusive behind the scenes access to what the President and the Republicans did, or rather failed to do.

But at one critical juncture, with an agreement tantalizingly close, Obama pressed Boehner for additional taxes as part of a final deal -- a miscalculation, in retrospect, given how far the House speaker felt he'd already gone.

The president called three times to speak with Boehner about his latest offer, according to Woodward. But the speaker didn't return the president's phone call for most of an agonizing day, in what Woodward calls a "monumental communications lapse" between two of the most powerful men in the country.

When Boehner finally did call back, he jettisoned the entire deal. Obama lost his famous cool, according to Woodward, with a "flash of pure fury" coming from the president; one staffer in the room said Obama gripped the phone so tightly he thought he would break it.

"He was spewing coals," Boehner told Woodward, in what is described as a borderline "presidential tirade."

"He was pissed…. He wasn't going to get a damn dime more out of me. He knew how far out on a limb I was. But he was hot. It was clear to me that coming to an agreement with him was not going to happen, and that I had to go to Plan B."

Tune in to "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline" on Monday September 10, 2012 to see Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview with Bob Woodward

Accounts of the final proposal that led to the deal's collapse continue to differ sharply. The president says he was merely raising the possibility of putting more revenue into the package, while Boehner maintains that the president needed $400 billion more, despite an earlier agreement of no more than $800 billion in total revenue, derived through tax reform.

Obama and his aides argue that the House speaker backed away from a deal because he couldn't stand the political heat inside his own party – or even, perhaps, get the votes to pass the compromise. They say he took the president's proposal for more revenue as an excuse to pull out of talks altogether.

"I was pretty angry," the president told Woodward about the breakdown in negotiations. "There's no doubt I thought it was profoundly irresponsible, at that stage, not to call me back immediately and let me know what was going on."

The failure of Obama to connect with Boehner was vaguely reminiscent of another phone call late in the evening of Election Day 2010, after it became clear that the Republicans would take control of the House, making Boehner Speaker of the House.

Nobody in the Obama orbit could even find the soon-to-be-speaker's phone number, Woodward reports. A Democratic Party aide finally secured it through a friend so the president could offer congratulations.

While questions persist about whether any grand bargain reached by the principals could have actually passed in the Tea Party-dominated Congress, Woodward issues a harsh judgment on White House and congressional leaders for failing to act boldly at a moment of crisis. Particular blame falls on the president.

"It was increasingly clear that no one was running Washington. That was trouble for everyone, but especially for Obama," Woodward writes.

For all the finger-pointing now, Obama and Boehner appear to have developed a rapport during the negotiations. The Illinois Democrat bonded with the Ohio Republican, starting with a much-publicized "golf summit" and continuing through long, substantive chats on the Truman Balcony and the patio right outside the Oval Office.

Boehner was drinking Merlot and smoking cigarettes, Obama sipping iced tea and chomping Nicorette. Obama, who had quit smoking by the time, wasn't offered a cigarette by Boehner and didn't ask for any, though he told Woodward he always made sure an ashtray was available for him. The two men were divided by ideology but united in looking for a legacy-making moment – even if it meant sacrificing their own jobs.

"I would willingly lose an election if I was able to actually resolve this in a way that was right," Obama told Woodward about his mindset at the time, comparing the debt negotiations to the decision to strike Osama bin Laden's compound.

Boehner voiced a similar desire to accomplish something big on spending: "I need this job like I need a hole in the head," he told Woodward. Yet top deputies loomed large over the negotiations. Vice President Joe Biden was labeled the "McConnell whisperer" by White House aides for his ability to cut deals with the often implacable Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The vice president led a parallel set of bipartisan talks that reached breakthroughs without the president's direct involvement.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is depicted as more in touch with the Republican caucus that elected Boehner speaker, particularly with its strong contingent of tea party freshmen who came to Washington pledging to put the brakes on federal spending at any cost.

Cantor, Woodward writes, viewed Boehner as a "runaway horse" who needed reining in, given the realities of his own caucus. The Boehner-Obama talks started without Cantor's knowledge, and Boehner later acknowledged to the president that Cantor was working against the very deal they were trying to reach, according to Woodward.

Intriguingly, Cantor and Biden frequently had "private asides" after larger meetings, according to Woodward. After one of them, Woodward writes that Biden told Cantor: "You know, if I were doing this, I'd do it totally different."

"Well, if I were running the Republican conference, I'd do it totally different," Cantor replied, according to Woodward.

Woodward writes: "They agreed that if they were in charge, they could come to a deal."

With the president taking charge, though, Obama found that he had little history with members of Congress to draw on. His administration's early decision to forego bipartisanship for the sake of speed around the stimulus bill was encapsulated by his then-chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel: "We have the votes. F--- 'em," he's quoted in the book as saying. "

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/bob-woodward-book-debt-deal-collapse-led-pure/story?id=17104635&page=4

(Continued in replies)

 

What do you think of Woodward's evaluation? 

 

Replies

  • Meadowchik
    October 6, 2012 at 9:09 AM

     

    Quoting Meadowchik:

     "As debt negotiations progressed, Democrats complained of being out of the loop, not knowing where the White House stood on major points. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is described as having a "growing feeling of incredulity" as negotiations meandered.

    "The administration didn't seem to have a strategy. It was unbelievable. There didn't seem to be any core principles," Woodward writes in describing Van Hollen's thinking.

    Larry Summers, a top economic adviser to Obama who also served as Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, identified a key distinction that he said impacted budget and spending talks.

    "Obama doesn't really have the joy of the game. Clinton basically loved negotiating with a bunch of pols, about anything," Summers said. "Whereas, Obama, he really didn't like these guys."

    Summers said that Obama's "excessive pragmatism" was a problem. "I don't think anybody has a sense of his deep feelings about things." Summers said. "I don't think anybody has a sense of his deep feelings about people. I don't think people have a sense of his deep feelings around the public philosophy."

    and

    "Boehner told Woodward that at one point, when Boehner voiced concern about passing the deal they were working out, the president reached out and touched his forearm.

    "John, I've got great confidence in my ability to sway the American people," Boehner quotes the president as having told him.

    "But after the breakthrough agreement fell apart, Boehner's "Plan B" would ultimately exclude the president from most of the key negotiations. The president was "voted off the island," in Woodward's phrase, even by members of his own party, as congressional leaders patched together an eleventh hour framework to avoid default. "

    This reflects pretty much every observation I have heard by people working closely with Obama.  That said, this would be a good time to invite anyone, Obama supporters included, who knows of a significantly different, more positive picture painted by those who worked closely with Obama.

    Anyone? 

     

    Obama's debate performance reminded me of this post and question.  The first debate reinforced this impression of him, IMO.

    Bumping the question.

  • pvtjokerus
    October 6, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    Everyone has been accused of something if they have anything negative to say about O.  Funny, how so many say the same thing but yet you and the liberal media just sing his praises.....

    Quoting _Kissy_:

    Woodward has been accused of exaggeration and fabrication, in many instances, notably the Watergate scandal.


  • pvtjokerus
    October 6, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    I have been wanting to read this book.  Thanks for posting.

  • MsDenuninani
    October 8, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    I admit to not reading the entire thing, but I read the portion in the original post, and the sections you highlighted in the 11th reply. 

    I've heard a bit about Woodward's book, and I've also heard something similar in other political reporting, as well.

    Ultimately, though, here's what I think, although my thinking is evolving on the issue. 

    During the primaries, Obama ran on "hope and change" while Clinton ran on "get Democratic agenda done" -- at least from my perspective.

    I voted for hope and change. 

    I knew that Obama's leadership style would be very different from what we've seen in Washington.  Obama is a consensus builder, a hardcore pragmatist, who sees a result, and tells you to find a way to get there.  This is different than -- "do this, make it happen", which is the more typical model -- and indeed, what Woodward is probably used to reporting on.  

    My hope -- back then -- was that a consensus builder would be able to find a way to bridge the DC divide.  That, by throwing it out to Congress to find a solution (rather than dictating what the solution should be), both Democrats and Republicans would work together, and each would take ownership of it. Obama's history, and people who worked with him in other organizations, suggested that you never knew what he thought.  He stayed out of the process that way. In my view at the time, this meant that it would be clear to everyone in DC that all ideas were welcome.

    What I didn't count on was a completely, completely, completely, obstructionist Republican party.  (For this reason alone, I could never - and encourage others to absolutely not - vote Republcian this time around.  The kind of behavior of the past four years should not be tolerated, in my honest view.  Some may find that an excuse, but the truth is, DC has been the most divided it's ever been (for a variety of reasons)).  I feel, pretty strongly, that Obama did not expect that.  I saw him speak before he became President, back when he was a State Senator.  He was clearly someone who wanted different ideas at the table, and wanted to implement the best policy, period, and didn't think either Republicans or Democrats alone would give the best answer.  I suppose, for this reason alone, it is not suprising to me that many Dems or Republicans have issues with him.

    I don't see this as a failure of leadership.  It remains to be seen whether this is a style of leadership that could ever "work "in Washington.  But I remain impressed by what he has accomplished given the level of obstructionism -- and those very accomplishments (stimulus, health care, repeal of DaDT, Dodd Frank) -- belie the fact that he is not a leader.

    Woodward is a political reporter, a good one, and I don't doubt his information or his resourcefulness.  and I think that a lot of his criticisms are valid. (And, four years from now, I've already told people that Democrats are going to pick someone they think of more as a "fighter", I bet.)  But I don't think that the failures in Washington can be blamed on Obama. 

    But, for me, an example of Obama's style of leadership can truly be seen with the health care debate of 2010.  With midterms coming up, in which Democrats were definitely going to take a beating, and when it truly looked like all was lost with the recent election of Scott ?(I forget his name now), and Democrats looked like even they were going to back out of it, because they all had their own elections to deal with, Obama had a meeting with all of them, and he basically made the moral case for health care.  He drew on their need to help Americans, despite what were going to be (and indeed were) political ramifications.  And we got health care. (And Republicans then got to re-district a bunch of seats, but. . .*sigh*)  Not perfect health care, but a start.

    That kind of leadership -- one of consensus building, where you step out of the picture, but guide others to where you want it to go -- is one that looks very different.  And I'm still crossing my fingers as to whether it's going to work to deal with the budget crises we're heading for.  Maybe now that everyone has an interest in compromise (I hope) it will.

  • 7SportsMom7
    October 8, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    I appreciated your honest assessment of how you viewed BO and what hope meant to you ... and then I got to your adamant blame, for what I see as his failures, on the Repbulicans.  A true leader has the capability of adjusting his/her style for the task at hand.  

    The health care debacle alone is what made me realize what a poor leader he really was going to be, what lengths the Democrats really would go through to get what the want, and what a scary path we would be on the future.  

    Quoting MsDenuninani:

    I admit to not reading the entire thing, but I read the portion in the original post, and the sections you highlighted in the 11th reply. 

    I've heard a bit about Woodward's book, and I've also heard something similar in other political reporting, as well.

    Ultimately, though, here's what I think, although my thinking is evolving on the issue. 

    During the primaries, Obama ran on "hope and change" while Clinton ran on "get Democratic agenda done" -- at least from my perspective.

    I voted for hope and change. 

    I knew that Obama's leadership style would be very different from what we've seen in Washington.  Obama is a consensus builder, a hardcore pragmatist, who sees a result, and tells you to find a way to get there.  This is different than -- "do this, make it happen", which is the more typical model -- and indeed, what Woodward is probably used to reporting on.  

    My hope -- back then -- was that a consensus builder would be able to find a way to bridge the DC divide.  That, by throwing it out to Congress to find a solution (rather than dictating what the solution should be), both Democrats and Republicans would work together, and each would take ownership of it. Obama's history, and people who worked with him in other organizations, suggested that you never knew what he thought.  He stayed out of the process that way. In my view at the time, this meant that it would be clear to everyone in DC that all ideas were welcome.

    What I didn't count on was a completely, completely, completely, obstructionist Republican party.  (For this reason alone, I could never - and encourage others to absolutely not - vote Republcian this time around.  The kind of behavior of the past four years should not be tolerated, in my honest view.  Some may find that an excuse, but the truth is, DC has been the most divided it's ever been (for a variety of reasons)).  I feel, pretty strongly, that Obama did not expect that.  I saw him speak before he became President, back when he was a State Senator.  He was clearly someone who wanted different ideas at the table, and wanted to implement the best policy, period, and didn't think either Republicans or Democrats alone would give the best answer.  I suppose, for this reason alone, it is not suprising to me that many Dems or Republicans have issues with him.

    I don't see this as a failure of leadership.  It remains to be seen whether this is a style of leadership that could ever "work "in Washington.  But I remain impressed by what he has accomplished given the level of obstructionism -- and those very accomplishments (stimulus, health care, repeal of DaDT, Dodd Frank) -- belie the fact that he is not a leader.

    Woodward is a political reporter, a good one, and I don't doubt his information or his resourcefulness.  and I think that a lot of his criticisms are valid. (And, four years from now, I've already told people that Democrats are going to pick someone they think of more as a "fighter", I bet.)  But I don't think that the failures in Washington can be blamed on Obama. 

    But, for me, an example of Obama's style of leadership can truly be seen with the health care debate of 2010.  With midterms coming up, in which Democrats were definitely going to take a beating, and when it truly looked like all was lost with the recent election of Scott ?(I forget his name now), and Democrats looked like even they were going to back out of it, because they all had their own elections to deal with, Obama had a meeting with all of them, and he basically made the moral case for health care.  He drew on their need to help Americans, despite what were going to be (and indeed were) political ramifications.  And we got health care. (And Republicans then got to re-district a bunch of seats, but. . .*sigh*)  Not perfect health care, but a start.

    That kind of leadership -- one of consensus building, where you step out of the picture, but guide others to where you want it to go -- is one that looks very different.  And I'm still crossing my fingers as to whether it's going to work to deal with the budget crises we're heading for.  Maybe now that everyone has an interest in compromise (I hope) it will.


  • Jambo4
    by Jambo4
    October 8, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    good read.. thanks Meadow

  • MsDenuninani
    October 8, 2012 at 5:13 PM


    Quoting 7SportsMom7:

    I appreciated your honest assessment of how you viewed BO and what hope meant to you ... and then I got to your adamant blame, for what I see as his failures, on the Repbulicans.  A true leader has the capability of adjusting his/her style for the task at hand.  

    The health care debacle alone is what made me realize what a poor leader he really was going to be, what lengths the Democrats really would go through to get what the want, and what a scary path we would be on the future.  


    Here's the thing:

    Currently in Congress, both the House and Senate - but especially the House - has little incentive to work together.  A House Republican (and I will be using Republicans in my example, here) will not get re-elected if he is seen as someone who works with the President.  So there's no incentive to even show up to the table, lest they be labled a RINO, and get kicked out of office.

    Within three days of the President's Inaugeration, Republican leadership had a meeting and decided the single most important goal of the next four years was getting Obama out of office.  When the health care debate came up -- despite that it was based on a Republican idea -- they refused to contribute ideas, lest they be seen as compromising with a Democrat.

    No leadership style can deal with a system where the incentive is not to work with the leader. 

    This current, sorry, state, is pretty new.  It's been bad, but it's gotten exponentially worse.  Even the wives of politicians down't talk to eachother.  In DC, everyone in Congress used to socialize and even live here, so there was opportunity to talk to and respect eachother as fellow human beings.

    It's changed.  A lot.

    In my personal opinion, it's the second worst thing in politics today.  And, frankly, neither Obama or Romney has actually talked about how they would deal with it in office.

  • 7SportsMom7
    October 8, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    ETA ... comments in red

    Quoting MsDenuninani:


    Quoting 7SportsMom7:

    I appreciated your honest assessment of how you viewed BO and what hope meant to you ... and then I got to your adamant blame, for what I see as his failures, on the Repbulicans.  A true leader has the capability of adjusting his/her style for the task at hand.  

    The health care debacle alone is what made me realize what a poor leader he really was going to be, what lengths the Democrats really would go through to get what the want, and what a scary path we would be on the future.  


    Here's the thing:

    Currently in Congress, both the House and Senate - but especially the House - has little incentive to work together.  A House Republican (and I will be using Republicans in my example, here) will not get re-elected if he is seen as someone who works with the President.  So there's no incentive to even show up to the table, lest they be labled a RINO, and get kicked out of office.

    That is where I look for a leader ... to create an incentive to work together.  If everyone really is all working toward the same goal for our country there is way- it takes special people to serve in this capacity and right now we are clearly lacking.  I believe many of the members of Congress are only in it for themselves and true colors are starting to show on both sides.  Thus the horrible state we are in (as you mentioned).  Personally, I'm looking forward to some of the new blood in my party ... Rubio, Martinez, Love, Ryan, Haley.  The veterans all need to go ... I strongly support term limits.

    Within three days of the President's Inaugeration, Republican leadership had a meeting and decided the single most important goal of the next four years was getting Obama out of office.  When the health care debate came up -- despite that it was based on a Republican idea -- they refused to contribute ideas, lest they be seen as compromising with a Democrat.

    I remember this happening when the Dems were ramming health care down our throats.  I will say again, I'm not a fan of Mitch McConnell and his old gang and I think they should go.  The health care debate could have been so much more successful between the two parties but I would say Pelosi and Reid were no better than how you are describing the Republicans.

    No leadership style can deal with a system where the incentive is not to work with the leader. 

    This current, sorry, state, is pretty new.  It's been bad, but it's gotten exponentially worse.  Even the wives of politicians down't talk to eachother.  In DC, everyone in Congress used to socialize and even live here, so there was opportunity to talk to and respect eachother as fellow human beings.

    It's changed.  A lot.

    In my personal opinion, it's the second worst thing in politics today.  And, frankly, neither Obama or Romney has actually talked about how they would deal with it in office.

    Romney did say at the debate he would work with both sides as he did with the majority of Dems in MA.  Many will argue he won't, can't or didn't in MA. That's not my point, I have faith he will try as he knows what it takes for a team to be successful ... and based on my own personal experience in management, so do I.  Now, if the Dems play the same stubborn games Repbus did should Romney be elected, he will have his chance to make a difference or we will all be in for four more bad years.


  • SallyMJ
    by SallyMJ
    October 8, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    I am about halfway through the book.  I think it's accurate, based on interviews with everyone involved, and given Woodward's 40 year history of investigative journalism. Woodward is a Democrat, and usually writes critically of Republicans, so this book is a little different for him.

    To be fair, I think it is important to note, as Woodward says, that there was an incredible amount of miscommunication on both sides. Woodward does point out a significant weakness in Obama's leadership. He notes that Pres. Obama seems to have difficulty working closely with Congress in general.  He never really has built relationships with Senators and Congessmen & women, as most presidents do. So when he is in a bind, there isn't that base of trust that allows things to be done quickly and harmoniously. Obama apparently doesn't typically negotiate bipartisan Win-Win decisions with the other party. That's why he delegated this task to Biden, who had a much better interaction and relationship with Republican Senators and Congressmen. 

    There was dysfunction among Republican House leadership and the White House, with two parallel negotiations going on at the same time: Boehner and Obama without Cantor's knowledge, and Biden and Democrat leaders with Cantor and other Republican leaders.

    One of the most damaging partisan events was when Pres. Obama gave his healthcare speech at George Washington University.  Obama had earlier convened the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Commission, which looked at every conceivable way to save money in the federal budget. Paul Ryan and the other two Republican Congressmen ultimately voted against the final version of Bowles-Simpson, but the group asked the president to still consider the money-saving ideas in the final report. The White House had invited Reps. Bowles and Simpson to the speech, and added the three Republicans, whose invitations were for the front row. The Republicans were very interested and thought Obama would discuss some ideas from Bowles-Simpson. Oddly, a camera was pointed directly in Ryan's direction. Apparently the right hand didn't communicate with the left hand. Obama says he did not see Ryan there or know he had been invited. His aide did and ran to tell Obama before the speech, but missed him. Obama gave his speech, which said in part that Ryan's health care plan was "radical, bleak, Darwinian" and would completely break the social compact America has with its citizens. After the speech, Ryan bolted from the room. Obama's aide ran after him and caught him by the jacket. "I can't believe you poisoned the well like that!" Ryan said. The aide apologized to Ryan; I do not recall that Obama did.

    So it's pretty messed up. There are a lot of moving parts in reaching agreements, but sadly, bipartisanship seems to be very broken in this administration.

  • Ednarooni160
    Eds
    October 8, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    BUMP!

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