The White House’s fumbled swap of five Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “looks something nefarious and stupid,” and President Obama has himself to blame for congressional attacks because he hasn't made allies on Capitol Hill, charged Bob Woodward, presidential author and Washington Post executive.
Woodward, given unusual access to the Obama White House, said that the president’s failure to make “human contact” with Hill leaders and his purposeful “disengagement” has left him isolated and unable to predict congressional reaction to controversial moves like the prisoner exchange.
“Obama has not found a way on these foreign policy issues, or some of the domestic budget issues to work his will. And I think it is a disengagement on his part,” Woodward said Thursday night in a discussion at the National Archives about foreign policy with former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, former White House Spokesman Mike McCurry and former Reps. John Tanner and Christopher Shays.
“There is an isolation now in this White House,” he added.
And it all came crashing in over Bergdahl, he said.
“I’m sure that the instinct on getting Bergdahl released was humanitarian. ‘Oh, this is a good thing, we’re going to do something positive for somebody.’ And they didn’t think, they didn’t have a strategic plan to win over the Congress, and then once it became public, the general voters out there. And so it looks like, something that may have had one of the most decent intents, now looks something nefarious and stupid,” said Woodward.
The swap has resulted in a huge backlash against Obama for two reasons: He didn't comply with legislation requiring him to notify Congress of prisoner releases from Guantanamo Bay and there are reports Bergdahl may have deserted.
Hastert said that the president failed to get congressional leaders to “buy-in” on the prisoner swap, something that came natural to other presidents.
At the event presented by the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, Woodward said he has a theory that “Obama is just not connecting and managing the human relations part of being president.”
A current Democratic chairman of a Senate committee confirmed that to him, he added, when the unnamed lawmaker revealed that Obama had called only twice in five years.
“They are not spending time together,” said Woodward of Congress and the president. “You have to spend time,” he said, adding that in negotiations, “You have to work it out, one for you, one for me, or you are going to find some consensus. It’s the collapse of a process here.”
Shays, a Republican who represented Connecticut for 21 years, said Obama’s failure has been in building relations with lawmakers he needs to advance his agenda. “If the president has done his homework, he will of had such good relations with so many different members, that he will know how they think, he will know who to call, and there will be some consensus that develops. This may seem like a political cheap shot, but I think if he spent less time going to his fundraising events, and more time just sitting down with members of Congress, he would be a more successful president,” said Shays.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.