During his press conference today President Obama exploited the conflict between John Boehner and the Tea Party to turn up the heat on the GOP.
Here is the video from MSNBC:
Obama said of the Republicans specifically the tea partiers in Congress, “I don’t see a path to a deal if they don’t budge, period. I mean if the basic proposition is it’s my way or the highway then we’re probably not going to get something done because we’ve got divided government. We’ve got Democrats controlling the Senate. We’re probably going to need Democratic votes in the House for any package we are going to pass, and so if in fact John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are sincere, and I believe they are that they don’t want to see the US government default, then they are going to have to compromise.”
The president called out the professional politicians, and turned the screws on the GOP leadership, “I will say that some of the professional politicians, for them to say that we shouldn’t be raising the debt ceiling is irresponsible. They know better. This is not something that I’m making up. This is not something Tim Geithner is making up…What you’re right about I think are the leaders in the room at a certain point have to step up and do the right thing, regardless of the voices in our respective parties that are trying to undermine that effort.”
He then not so subtly put Boehner on his side, “I have a stake in John Boehner successfully persuading his caucus that this is the right thing to do, just like he has a stake in me successfully persuading the Democratic Party that we should take on these problems we’ve been talking about for too long but haven’t been doing anything about.”
Obama then talked about Boehner’s problems within his own caucus, “I think Speaker Boehner has been very sincere about trying to do something big. I think he’d like to do something big. His politics within his caucus are very difficult. You’re right. This is part of the problem with a political process where folks are rewarded for saying irresponsible things to win elections or obtain short term political gain when we are in a position to do something hard, but we haven’t always laid the groundwork. Look it’s going to take some work on his side, but it’s going to take some work on our side to get this thing done.
The President then pointed out that Democrats would prefer not to do anything about these problems. Obama then made his case to progressives that we can’t pursue progressive programs until our fiscal house is in order.
The Tea Party Republicans and many Republicans in general have been working on the assumption that Obama is weak, and that if they don’t budge on their position and keep threatening, the president will give in. But this time it looks like Obama is calling their bluff.
Putting Boehner against the tea party is something that Obama has needed to do. Republicans were able to play hardball on the budget and Bush tax cuts by holding things like unemployment benefits hostage, but this time they have no card like that to play. Obama can afford to wait them out.
For his part the Speaker is stuck between a rock and a hard place. By placing the Speaker on his side, Obama is throwing gasoline on the fiery feud between the tea partiers and the House leadership. Speaker Boehner’s remark after the Obama press conference that the debt ceiling has to be raised, but taxes can’t be increased illustrated just how screwed he is on this one.
The Republican caucus won’t vote for a tax increase, but the Speaker knows that with Obama staying in the middle and trying to cut a deal, if the US defaults Republicans will take the brunt of the blame.
Those who thought that there was no news in this press conference missed a strategic gamesmanship that Obama put on display today. Obama stayed in the middle, turned the heat up on Boehner, and exploited the fracture within the Republican Party.
As long as Obama holds his ground, the Republicans paralyzed by their own internal warfare will be left with two choices. They can either compromise which would both anger their base and help reelect this president, or they can hold their ground and watch their political fortunes go down the drain.
Obama is playing head games with the GOP now. The best way for this president to overcome the Republicans do nothing agenda is to divide and conquer his ideologically fractured foes.