Political Animal


December 22, 2011 8:00 AM ‘The Speaker is … boxed in a corner’

By Steve Benen

The payroll tax cut will expire in 9 days and 16 hours unless House Republicans agree to pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise, and at this point, there’s no reason to believe that’s going to happen. The House GOP is under all kinds of pressure, but it hasn’t so much as hinted at giving in.

With this in mind, yesterday’s White House press briefing with Jay Carney featured a couple of interesting exchanges. One reporter argued, for example, that President Obama seems to have “no intention of negotiating.” The press secretary explained, “The negotiating has happened already…. This was a compromise worked out by the Republican leader in the Senate with the Democratic leader in the Senate, with the approval — in fact, even the instigation — of the Speaker of the House.”

It ultimately led to this back and forth between Carney and another reporter:

Q: Yesterday, the President said he needed the Speaker to do something. The Speaker said, “I need the President to do something.” My assumption would be the Speaker expected something more than a phone call. He was looking for something from the President as far as negotiations; you say there’s nothing to negotiate. The Speaker is in a corner, he’s boxed in a corner. Is the President going to do nothing to help the Speaker get out of that corner?

CARNEY: The President is doing everything he can to help the American people. The Speaker is very capable of helping himself by calling a vote on the Senate compromise, a compromise that received the support of 80 percent of the Republican senators and even a greater percentage of Democratic senators. There is a bipartisan compromise available to him as a lifesaver, if you will.

Q: But politically he’s in a box. Is there anything the President can do?

CARNEY: Well, I mean, honestly, the important thing here is not who’s up and who’s down politically because, as I talked about yesterday, we are beginning to see some positive signs in the economy. We are a long way from full economic recovery, but the last thing we need to do is fail to pass a payroll tax cut extension which would have a negative impact on the kind of economic growth that we have been seeing and need to continue to see. It’s just wrong at every level to prevent this from passing.

What I found fascinating about this is the notion that Obama should be helping Boehner. The poor Speaker of the House has found himself in a jam, and apparently the president should be a good sport and lend the guy a hand. How? Presumably by agreeing to compromise on the compromise.

I’m not sure who asked the question [Update: In comments, James points to this video and says the question came from ABC News’ David Wright.], but I hope someone will remind him that political disputes aren’t supposed to work this way. The White House and the House Republican leadership disagree on a policy, and the president hopes to see Boehner give in. That the Speaker is “is in a corner” and feels “boxed in” is … how do I put this gently … exactly what Obama wants to resolve the dispute.

Indeed, House GOP officials started the day under fire from their own allies, and this only got worse as the day progressed. By close of business, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich both wanted to see the Speaker to cut his losses and accept the compromise, and Senate Republicans concluded that their House counterparts are on their own.

Questions from White House reporters notwithstanding, the next move should be House Republicans coming to their senses, not the president throwing Boehner a life-preserver.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • chi res on December 22, 2011 8:05 AM:

    There's an old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto that ends with the punchline:

    "Whadaya mean 'we', white man?"

    (may want to change white to orange)

  • Danp on December 22, 2011 8:15 AM:

    If Little John is too proud to get in the life boat, we can't ask everyone else to drown. Especially if his goal is to sink the boat anyway.

  • c u n d gulag on December 22, 2011 8:16 AM:

    I can't believe that exchange.

    I mean, what's the prerequisite now for getting your "Journalism" degree - a full frontal lobotomy?

    I preferred the old journalists:
    Better a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.

    That had to be a FOX or Murdoch print reporter, because who else would feel sympathetic to a loser like Boehner?

    Whoever it is, someone please pour this f*cking idiot a stiff drink, sit them down, and try to explain that if the Orange Marcel Marceau has put himself into a box, it's of his own making, and it's not up to the President from the other party to cordially lend him a hand.

    Better MSM PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ***************Oh, and just when you think it can't get any worse, along comes CRAPTCHA with a few new tricks - like putting letters in Rorschach ink blots.

    Happy F*cking Holiday's to you, too, CRAPTCHA!!!

  • Holmes on December 22, 2011 8:20 AM:

    Is there a more worthless group of people than the beltway media?

    The Republicans have been trying to find creative ways to screw Dems for decades now. Those efforts have increased exponentially since Obama took office, despite being in a disastrous fiscal crisis largely of their making. But because Boehner is a coward, and boxed himself in politically, the President is supposed to bail him out?

  • Hedda Peraz on December 22, 2011 8:21 AM:

    Obama should indeed help Speaker Boehner- and the nation- by announcing that he will not seek re-election.
    Thus saving us the long nightmare of impeachment.

  • stevio on December 22, 2011 8:24 AM:

    Poor, poor John. Perhaps we should all be shedding a tear or two for that joke-of-a-man. Perhaps not. The sleaze he fronts for deserve him and his ilk. The GOP could not have given us a better Christmas gift.

    If the repugs don't give in and give this gift to the dems during an election cycle that they may have won given their stranglehold on the MSM, I'll find a manner in which to stomach my $30 by-weekly loss in the tax cut and smile all the way to the ballot box.

    Once the Dems win back the House with actual clear thinkers, and the GOP sees that they will continue to lose seats in both houses if they continue to do the bidding of the 1%, we just might win back this democracy.

    Then I woke up....

  • Daryl on December 22, 2011 8:25 AM:

    "Questions from White House reporters notwithstanding, the next move should be House Republicans coming to their senses, not the president throwing Boehner a life-preserver.:

    Boehner's drowning? Throw him an anchor.

  • kevo on December 22, 2011 8:26 AM:

    We who've paid attention know when grown up Republicans assemble in a room there is nary an adult around!

    Now, such creep has hit the WH press corps. Is the transcript on acid? Was the reporter high?

    The provided transcript seems more attached to a teen mag reporter than any serious journalist trying to speak truth to power. Is this sophist line of questioning the result of our twitter world? -Kevo

  • berttheclock on December 22, 2011 8:31 AM:

    Yeah, really rough on the Boner guy - The Prez with holding water wings and Cantor blocking his year's supply of Man Tan.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on December 22, 2011 8:32 AM:

    Watching all three newscasts ABC NBC CBS (Fox doesn't count)last night at the Gym on the bank of TEE VEEs. They dare not mention the evil name Republican as a source of the stalemate ..... oh pray no in the interest of fair and balanced they referred to a generic "Congress" or "House"
    and then finally mentioning BTW the WSJ and "some" Republicans are upset about this.
    There you have it Mr. and Mrs America . No doubt why you are so uninformed and continue to make bad choices come election time.

  • theAmericanist on December 22, 2011 8:35 AM:

    Ohfercryinoutloud: "The Speaker is very capable of helping himself by calling a vote on the Senate compromise, a compromise that received the support of 80 percent of the Republican senators...."

    When the White House itself gives you the framing, build on it, already.

    I keep hammering on it all week, and y'all keep lunging off in the wrong direction: the Speaker's job is to let the WHOLE House decide on legislation. The deal worked out by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate could easily pass the House, quite probably with a majority of Republican votes IF THE SPEAKER BRINGS IT UP.


  • Grumpy on December 22, 2011 8:38 AM:

    As Sun Tzu is said to have said, "Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across."

    And so Carney says, "The Speaker is very capable of helping himself by calling a vote on the Senate compromise..." The only box is the one Boehner has nailed himself into.

  • Daniel Kim on December 22, 2011 8:43 AM:

    @Hedda Peraz:
    Just because the Republicans in Congress will insist on pulling out the gratuitous impeachment weapon, doesn't mean it's a bad thing. Any continued action that makes the GOP look irresponsible and destructive, showing the nation how poorly suited they are for doing the actual work of governing this country, is a good thing. I'd say that they should definitely bring it on. I want to see even more crazy-eye, spittle-flinging extremism from the Republican party in the coming year. I want to see Inhofe start to publicly accuse president Obama of being from outer space! I want to hear McConnell openly advocate legalization of slavery! I want them to show their true, ugly, hateful faces to the public.

  • berttheclock@comcast.net on December 22, 2011 8:45 AM:

    From my reading of the briefing text, Carney called out to a reporter whose first name is David, prior to the exchange.

  • James on December 22, 2011 8:46 AM:

    It was David Wright of ABC, subbing for Jake Tapper who is usually in that seat. www.whitehouse.gov/videos/2011/December/briefings/122111.mp4 @ around 27:00

    I don't think he was advocating for Boehner so much as trying to get a reaction from Carney about whether the WH was finally drawing a line in the sand. Whether they were going to let Boehner twist out there in the wind or if there were going to be any lifelines thrown out there.

  • Kathryn on December 22, 2011 8:50 AM:

    Didn't you just love the show of solidarity yesterday as a mass of Repiglican congresspeople surrounded Boner steadfast and loyal (per number one disgrace Alan West) solemnly hyped on Braveheartt? Let them twist in the wind. I only wish more voters would hear that ludicrous exchange between unnamed "reporter" and Jay Carney. The state of the press in the United States defies description or words.

  • Michigander on December 22, 2011 8:55 AM:

    I just read that entire transcript. Jay Carney has my admiration; he has the patience of a saint. How many different ways are there to ask the same freaking question. I'd be saying sit down, shut up, and listen to what I am saying. They hear, but they do not comprehend.

  • arguingwithsignposts on December 22, 2011 8:59 AM:

    The problem is the WH press corps has to have a "story." Therefore, they want controversy in the daily press conference so they can do their standup and call it a day. I'd much rather prefer a daily or weekly lottery to fill those seats.

  • SW on December 22, 2011 9:00 AM:

    The most difficult part of Carney's job here would seem to be delivering the grim news of a middle class tax hike at Christmas time without a huge smile on his face.

  • SadOldVet on December 22, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Alas Poor Kathryn @8:50 AM...

    The state of the press in the United States defies description or words.

    Unfortunately, I disagree with your assessment. 8 Corporations own 94% of all broadcast (tv/cable/radio/et.al.) and print (newspapers/magazines/et.al.) in the United Corporations of Amerikkka.

    The Corporately Owned Media (otherwise generally referred to as The Press) are performing the tasks assigned to them by their corporate masters. Those tasks are to be an echo chamber and message amplifier for the repuknican messages as long as the GOP messages are pro 1%. Those assigned tasks are to lie and mislead the Amerikkkan Sheeple (Fox) or confuse the hell out of the Sheeple (both sides do it)(ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN/et.al.).

  • Darsan54 on December 22, 2011 9:03 AM:

    Boehner wants Obama to help him? Man, after all the crap Little Orange John has thrown Obama's way, you gotta admire a pair that big. Also as a very, very minor media player some years ago, we prided ourselves on seeing things clearly and in context. This guy is with the Washington Press Corp, supposedly some of the best journalists in the country? This guy must be a plant for Newsmax.

  • theAmericanist on December 22, 2011 9:04 AM:

    Grumpy, there's a better insight from the Bing-Fa: always leave your adversary a way out. (which is actually IN Xun-Ze's book)

    It's an eternal principle of effective strategy, described in the commentaries: if you've got an enemy army pinned against an unfordable river with no bridge, don't completely surround him. Figure out which escape route places his forces at the greatest disadvantage, the one where his units will break down and scatter, and leave that one open.

    Then when you attack, his army won't have to fight for the glory of a last stand because that's their only choice. They will all know they have a way out, and at least some of them will flee rather than fight. That will make the ones who are left less fierce, especially when your tactics in attacking them constantly offer an apparently easy way out -- which will make their defeat more complete.

    It's subtle but very effective: we should be making the point, over and over, that all the Ds are asking for is for the Speaker to do his job and let the WHOLE House vote on the Senate compromise Republicans voted for -- it's self-government. We can be reasonable -- why, if the House votes on the Senate compromise and 193 Democrats don't bring along 25 Republicans to pass it, the President will of course call the Senate back in.

    BUT THE HOUSE HAS TO VOTE ON THE SENATE COMPROMISE FIRST. That's the way out, see? The Speaker's latest claim is that they did vote -- but he gave the House only the option of voting to go to a Conference Committee, they didn't vote on what the Senate passed, which Boehner had urged them to work out -- which they did. He's afraid of an up-or-down vote: BECAUSE HE WILL LOSE IT.

    If your analysis follows Xun-Ze's example of an army pinned against a river, the 155 Republicans in the House who are NOT Tea Party folks will see that escape route in front of them... and a very large number will vote yes on the Senate compromise, waving back at the 87 Tea Party freshmen as they are left to their latest Last Stand.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on December 22, 2011 9:04 AM:

    It's looking more and more like over 50% of the country took the short bus to school.

  • James on December 22, 2011 9:07 AM:

    If serious political observers aren't taking time out of their day to watch the White House daily briefing, or Jay Carney & Company, they are missing the biggest shew in town. Masterful.

    Transcripts don't do it justice.

  • Kathryn on December 22, 2011 9:09 AM:

    @americanist ....Everybody here knows the Speaker has enough votes with the Democrats to pass the payroll extension, the people who don't know are the voters (most anyway) and no one from the press is informing them of that fact. MSM would sooner drink cyanide then explain the simple fact that the Speaker is the Speaker of the entire House of Representatives, not just the GOP part and, as such, can call a vote and pass the extension immediately. I don't believe that a majority of Republicans would vote for it, but let's see, call a vote Boner, that's what the big gavel is for.

  • jim filyaw on December 22, 2011 9:11 AM:

    boehner reminds me of the black sheriff in 'blazing saddles' who on finding himself facing a lynch mob pulled out his pistol, aimed at his head, and in a fake voice said, "anybody makes a move and the n----r gets it".

  • Kathryn on December 22, 2011 9:18 AM:

    @SadOldVet... You are correct, but it pains me, I guess I still remember better days and better reporting from unbought journalists when I was young.

  • Ladyhawke on December 22, 2011 9:20 AM:

    The question asked by the reporter is typical of the White House Press Corps. They are like proxies for the GOP. Most questions have at their root some GOP talking point or criticism of President Obama. It might as well have been Speaker John Boehner himself sitting in the briefing room asking Jay Carney why can't President Obama just throw me a lifeline.

  • biggerbox on December 22, 2011 9:21 AM:

    What I wish Carney had said:

    "If the Speaker finds himself standing in a box, it's really up to him to step out of it, don't you think? He's a grown-up. He was elected to do the right thing for the American people, and he could choose to do that by voting for the agreement already negotiated on his behalf by Senator McConnell, and approved by a bipartisan majority in the Senate. The President and the Senate have shown him the way out of the box. You'll have to ask the Speaker why he's choosing to keep standing in it."

  • zandru on December 22, 2011 9:27 AM:

    theAmericanist gives a good and thoughtful discussion, but leaves out a part: earlier in the week, the House put together a bizarre package of the Senate compromise bill and some other important stuff, worded in such a way as to basically "deem and fail" the Senate bill. I can't get any more descriptive, because I don't fully understand it.

    The goal was to "vote" on the compromise bill in such a way that would ensure its defeat, while giving cover to Republicans who might later wish to plausibly deny that they had voted against it.

    Anyway, it leaves Boner able to claim that they did vote on the Senate compromise bill and it failed. However, it wasn't by any stretch of the imagination a "clean" vote. And Boner seems to be rejecting that as an option.

    To his loss!

  • T2 on December 22, 2011 9:28 AM:

    questions like that are framed to allow groundwork to be laid so that, in the end, the headline can read "Obama fails to Lead". The Media is desperate for that meme to spread. The one thing they fear most is having to write "Obama Leads Way". Keep in mind, the #1 Priority for the GOP is getting Obama out.....so Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann can be president.

  • Grumpy on December 22, 2011 9:34 AM:

    Americanist... my God! Obama really is leading us into the Chinese century!

  • berttheclock on December 22, 2011 9:39 AM:

    David Wright? My, oh my, he, certainly, has come a long way from his misinformation campaign about e-mails from the Climate research people, and, his distortion of Jon Stewarts take on the issue. Perhaps, if Keith still had "Countdown", he could award him with another "Worst Person in the World", which he did for those distortions.

  • Ron Byers on December 22, 2011 9:55 AM:

    I watched one of the tea party Republican congress people on the morningins Chuck Todd show. She was still fighting the wrong battle.

    When are the tea party people going to learn that you can't invite a compromise in the senate and then piss on them when they adopt the compromise you requested.

    I will report that the congresswoman from upstate New York reported that she still has the support of right wing talk radio and their dittoheads. Apparently only the dittohead vote counts.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on December 22, 2011 10:02 AM:

    Nobody told the Speaker to hop is happy ass in the "box" in the first place. Everything was honky dorey until he and his ilk pulled this little stunt. Cry me a river... really, Boehner, cry us all a little river.

    and what the hell is with these obsure blobs on captcha??

  • dsimon on December 22, 2011 10:13 AM:

    I think Benen misinterprets the reporter's question, or the question wasn't phrased well enough.

    Even if one thinks that the position of the House Republicans is completely unjustified, the fact remains that Boehner is constrained by his caucus. And it's a pretty basic negotiating tactic that if you want a deal and you're completely in the right, you still need a way to get your opponent to agree in a way that preserves that person's dignity. Otherwise, your opponent will just dig in and refuse, and there will be no deal.

    Obama says he wants a deal, and I believe him. Failure to extend the tax cut, while a possible political gain if blame can be fixed on Republicans, would be an economic liability going into the election, and Republicans have already taken a beating for their intransigence. So it would help if he could offer a mechanism where Boehner could cave but in some kind of face-saving manner, and I think that's what the reporter was trying to ask about.

    What that mechanism might be, though, is beyond me since little seems to satisfy the Republican base anymore.

  • johnny canuck on December 22, 2011 10:19 AM:

    James on December 22, 2011 9:07 AM:
    If serious political observers aren't taking time out of their day to watch the White House daily briefing, or Jay Carney & Company, they are missing the biggest shew in town. Masterful.
    Transcripts don't do it justice.

    I second the motion. And specifically, one can watch in the evening (or catch up on weekends) they are on whitehouse.gov under the photos and videos tab.

    I also wish to second and expand on this:

    Michigander on December 22, 2011 8:55 AM:
    I just read that entire transcript. Jay Carney has my admiration; he has the patience of a saint.

    There is a very positive tone resulting from Carney's approach. It is my impression that even Ed Henry has become much more agreeable.

    Finally, while you are at whitehouse.gov, the speech President Obama gave on Dec 16 to the 71st General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism appears to be a state secret. I thought it was profound and beautifully crafted.
    here it is:

  • SYSPROG on December 22, 2011 10:23 AM:

    OK my question is 'WHAT ELSE IS IN THIS BILL YOU ARE SO EAGER TO PASS????' It sure as s@#$ isn't because you care if you extend it for a YEAR or TWO MONTHS. TWO WEEKS ago you didn't want it at all! Why doesn't anybody ask THAT???

  • theAmericanist on December 22, 2011 10:25 AM:

    Boehner is only constrained by his caucus if you think of him as a partisan official. But he's not -- he's the Speaker of the WHOLE House. The Speaker is elected by a majority of the House, which generally (not always, historically) means he's elected only by his majority party. But he is responsible to the House as a whole, not just to the party that elected him.

    Cantor is the Majority Leader. HE is responsible to the Republican Caucus.

    Zandru: I didn't leave that part out. I pointed right at it -- what I'm arguing is that (as Carney has belatedly begun to do) the White House, House Dems like Hoyer, and ALL Senators (as McCain and others have done) should be pointing out that all the Speaker has to do is bring up what the Senate passed for an up or down vote.

    That's NOT what he did. Kindly don't fuck it up because you don't understand. This isn't some political crisis, because a majority of the Republican caucus in the House doesn't agree with an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in the Senate.

    Self-government. The House should vote on what both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate passed.

  • Peter Pitchford on December 22, 2011 10:40 AM:

    Here a picture of the reporter who asked that question:

    He's sitting in the front row, in the middle with the beige tie. They called him David. I haven't been able to figure out who he is.

  • berttheclock on December 22, 2011 10:49 AM:

    @Peter Pitchford, he is David Wright, of whom Keith Olbermann gave a "Worst Person in the World" for distorting comments by Jon Stewart on the ridiculous e-mail Climate Change reseach attacks by the Right Wing. He, also, supplied misinformation about those e-mails. Works for ABC.

  • chrome agnomen on December 22, 2011 11:03 AM:

    won't someone think of the childr...er...republicans??!!

  • stinger on December 22, 2011 11:51 AM:

    Dear captcha:

    Newsflash: Neither fstefig nor III: is a "word".

    Dear Washington Monthly:

    The Rorschach test that is Captcha is a nightmare for some of us humans and fails to block spammers. Please reconsider its use.

  • Peter Pitchford on December 22, 2011 12:12 PM:

    thanks berttheclock. I see James has already pointed it out.

    It seems like the answer from Carney should have been, Boehner has boxed himself in and Obama has already given him a way out.

  • Gregory on December 22, 2011 12:34 PM:

    Of course, during years of Republican obstructionism and instransigence that has damaged not only Obama politically but also the nation economically the so-called "liberal media" has frequently concern trolled the Republicans about helping Obama out.

    Oh, no, wait -- they quote McConnell as saying Republicans' top priority -- in a recession -- is ensuring Obama is a one-term president, and then steadfastly refuse to evaluate anything the Republicans do in that light.

    It may seem a minor matter, but this line of questioning proves how deeply the media is biased -- as Josh Marshall put it, "wired for Republicans" -- and how bad they are at the ostensible function of their job.

  • liam foote on December 22, 2011 3:00 PM:

    I've always thought that John Boehner was basically a decent man and someone who could work with Mr. Obama. He hasn't been afforded the chance by his raucous caucus, though, led by the repugnant Rep. Cantor. The Speaker at least had sufficient grace to answer the Presidential phone call, something that might not have been the reaction of the clueless suit from Virginia.

    A cursory review of articles and blogs yesterday and today reveals the first grumblings from the right about Obama being unwilling to negotiate or compromise. There are actually poignant pleadings from the wingnuts asking why GOP reps must always be the ones to compromise!

    Obama supporters can unanimously say that it is about time to admit that efforts to reach across the aisle are futile with this group of recalcitrants and that we will continue to raise your approval ratings as you take firm stands against the GOP waterdance.