Call it a combination of President Obama’s favorite rhetorical techniques: bemoaning politics and using sports metaphors.
Obama and his closest allies just love talking pigskin when on the defensive. The desired effect is to paint the White House as above the Washington fray and more principled than its political rivals.
Here is just a small sampling of Team Obama’s favorite prevent defense.
In the outer Oval Office in 2009.“This is not a political football.”
Obama last week deflected criticisms about his decision to trade five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying he was more concerned with bringing home the American than worrying about the debate in Washington.
Obama strikes the "Heisman pose" for the Air Force Academy football team in 2012.“It is important that our veterans don't become another political football, especially when so many of them are receiving care right now.”
Flipping the ball to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer in 2009.“My view is that the longer we see the law benefiting millions of people, the more we see accusations that the law is hurting millions of people being completely debunked — as some of you in the press have done — and the more the average American who already has health insurance sees that it’s actually not affecting them in an adverse way, then it becomes less of a political football.”
The president in April accused Republicans of exaggerating disillusionment with his signature health law and insisted that Obamacare would become less politically toxic with more Americans gaining access to health care.
Obama at a Binghamton, N.Y., town hall in August said Republicans had used the budget as a political tool to block investments needed to jumpstart the economy.
Football in hand, Obama fist-bumps aide Pete Rouse while Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett looks on (2009).“Now, unfortunately, right now the federal budget generally has been a political football in Washington.”
Throwing to an aide in the Rose Garden (2010). “That doesn't excuse the conduct, doesn't say that it’s the right thing to do. It means that we have to address poor performance as poor performance, and reject efforts to turn it into yet another partisan political football.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney in July said Republicans were creating a “phony scandal” in focusing on the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups.
Raising the debt ceiling
In the Oval Office (2009).“We support the idea that the debt ceiling ought not to be a political football.”
Carney in January 2013 endorsed a Republican plan for a three-month extension of the debt ceiling, saying the White House was satisfied with a temporary cease-fire in political gamesmanship.
Obama vs. Romney
Tossing the coin before the Army-Navy game (2011.)
“The car companies themselves told Gov. Romney to knock it off. GM said, ‘We think creating jobs in the United States should be a source of bipartisan pride.’ They don't want this to become some political football in Governor Romney’s TV ad. And I couldn’t agree more.”Obama in an Ohio campaign stop right before the 2012 presidential election ripped his Republican rival for an ad claiming Jeep was outsourcing jobs to China.
Throwing to Chief of Staff Denis McDonough last year.
“But let’s assume that the Republicans do retain the House, let’s say. What I can — what I’m absolutely certain of is if the Latino community and the American community that cares about this issue turns out to vote, they can send a message that this is not something to use as a political football, that people’s lives are at stake, that this is a problem that we can solve and historically has had bipartisan support."Obama used an Univision town hall in September 2012 to pressure Republicans to act on immigration reform, defending his administration's inability to deliver on the initiative and promising results in a possible second term.
Birth control and ACA
At Chicago's Soldier Field (2012)“Now, after the many genuine concerns that have been raised over the last few weeks, as well as, frankly, the more cynical desire on the part of some to make this into a political football, it became clear that spending months hammering out a solution was not going to be an option, that we needed to move this faster. So last week, I directed the Department of Health and Human Services to speed up the process that had already been envisioned.”
Obama in February 2012 announced narrow exemptions for religious-affiliated organizations from Obamacare's contraception mandate but accused Republicans of distorting how his signature health law would affect women.
Obama grips a football, one bearing the logo of the Florida Gators, in his hands during an Oval Office meeting on health care in 2009.“Let’s be clear: Republicans know — what the episode in the last 24 hours shows I think reinforces the idea that this is becoming a political football and a partisan effort. They cherry-pick some documents and try to make hay out of something that, when looked at in its entirety, only reinforces what we’ve said, which is that there was no political influence in the decision-making progress.”
On the defensive for not turning over documents related to green-energy firm Solyndra, Carney in November 2011 accused Republicans of waging a false political war against the White House.
Situation in Libya
The president tosses a rugby ball -- that's Australian rules football -- to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2001. Rugby rules require a throwing style many American football fans would find odd.
“And I think, astoundingly, there is a move in the House of Representatives to take an effort as it relates to the ongoing effort to stop a tyrant in Libya and to turn it into a political football in such a way here as to give, at a critical time -- potentially send a very negative signal to the leadership of that country, which, as we all know, has over the course of time carried out hateful and heinous attacks against U.S. citizens, including terrorist attacks.”Even a senior administration official, on background, used the sports metaphor in a conference call with reporters three years ago to defend the U.S. airstrikes in Libya.
And for bonus points:
Playing with Bo on the South Lawn (2009).
"We have to stop letting those in power turn us against each other. No place do I see this more than in our immigration debate. I am tired of people of people using this as a political football. We need to solve this problem."The "political football" was already in Obama’s playbook even before he won the presidency. In January 2008, he used the phrase to bash GOP “cynicism” on immigration reform.
All photos in this post were taken by White House photographer Pete Souza.