POLITICS

Woodward’s devastating account of Obama’s failed leadership

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Conn Carroll

Arrogant, aloof, and unprepared is how Bob Woodward portrays President Obama in his new book The Price of Politics, set to be released next week.

The book recounts Obama’s troubled relationship with Congress, from his inauguration through last summer’s failed debt-limit negotiations, with Woodward concluding, “It is a fact that President Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition. But presidents work their will — or should work their will — on important matters of national business. . . . Obama has not.”

Snippets of the book, as reported by The Washington Post, include:

The book portrays Obama as a man of paradoxical impulses, able to charm an audience with his folksy manner but less adept and less interested in cultivating his relationships with Reid and Pelosi. While the president worries that he can’t rely on the two leaders, they are portrayed as impatient with him. As the final details of the 2009 stimulus package were being worked out on Capitol Hill, Obama phoned the speaker’s office to exhort the troops. Pelosi put the president on speakerphone so everyone could hear.

“Warming to his subject, he continued with an uplifting speech,” Woodward writes. “Pelosi reached over and pressed the mute button. They could hear Obama, but now he couldn’t hear them. The president continued speaking, his disembodied voice filling the room, and the two leaders got back to the hard numbers.”

In the same vein, Woodward portrays Obama’s attempts to woo business leaders as ham-handed and governed by stereotype. At a White House dinner with a select group of business executives in early 2010, Obama gets off on the wrong foot by saying, “I know you guys are Republicans.” Ivan Seidenberg, the chief executive of Verizon, who “considers himself a progressive independent,” retorted, “How do you know that?”

Nonetheless, Seidenberg was later pleased to receive an invitation to the president’s 2010 Super Bowl party. But he changed his mind after Obama did little more than say hello, spending about 15 seconds with him. “Seidenberg felt he had been used as window dressing,” Woodward writes. “He complained to Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama aide. . . . Her response: Hey, you’re in the room with him. You should be happy.”

ABC News also reports:

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.”

Woodward portrays a president who remained a supreme believer in his own powers of persuasion, even as he faltered in efforts to coax congressional leaders in both parties toward compromise. 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.

With the nation facing the very real possibility of defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history, David Krone, the chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told the president directly that he couldn’t simply reject the only option left to Congress.

“It is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B,” Krone said, according to Woodward.

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