President Barack Obama has been pleading with Capitol Hill Republicans to work in a bipartisan way on key measures such as climate change legislation and immigration reform, but many of his most likely GOP allies say the president has lost all credibility since he bashes them every time he hits the campaign trail.
Obama spent much of Tuesday pressing lawmakers to find bipartisan consensus on energy and immigration reform bills, both of which have stalled amid flagging GOP support. But less than 24 hours later, and to the chagrin of Republicans, the president was blasting House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) for being “out of touch” and framing Republicans as “the other side” during a speech in Wisconsin.
“Before I was even inaugurated, the Congressional leaders of the other party got together and made a calculation that if I failed, they’d win,” Obama told the crowd. “They figure if they just keep saying no’ to everything and nothing gets done, they’ll get more votes in November. It’s no wonder folks are so cynical about politics.”
The president said his party has “already tried the other side’s ideas” and that Democrats “already know where their theories led us. We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future.”
House Republicans whom the White House has previously looked to for bipartisan help say comments like these are the reason Obama’s vows to work together fall on deaf ears on the Hill.
“A day doesn’t go by where we don’t hear one thing and see another. The outstretched hand by the left with the clenched clock across the face by the right. It just seems to be their method of doing things,” Budget ranking member Paul Ryan said.
The Wisconsin lawmaker, whom Obama has publicly praised for his willingness to work across party lines, said the president’s words never translated into a White House effort to work together behind the scenes.
“He would say nice things about me publicly, but there was never actual outreach,” Ryan said. “I used to think there was going to be follow-up, but now I just accept it hasn’t happened. We have yet to see any action that suggests he’s sincere about compromise.”
Ryan also accused Obama of being “intellectually lazy” by attacking Boehner during his Wisconsin speech, which took place in Ryan’s district. The Minority Leader has come under fire for saying financial reform is akin to using a nuclear weapon on an ant.
“He was attacking our leader, taking him out of context and setting up more straw men and trying to knock them down,” Ryan said. “The straw men arguments are intellectually hollow and disingenuous, and they send a clear signal that the president is more interested in combat than compromise.”
White House spokesman Bill Burton defended Obama’s aggressive tone with Republicans in his speech.
“The president’s view is that there are these important moments where there is some clarity about how our view of the world contrasts with the Republican view of the world,” Burton told reporters. He said Obama’s criticisms of Boehner are justified because they highlight the “difference in what we saw as the cause and cost of the financial crisis and what we needed to do about it, and what their view of the financial crisis was, which was that it was just an ant.'”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who in February landed an unusual one-on-one lunch with White House Legislative Director Phil Schiliro to discuss ways they could work together, said he hasn’t “heard a peep since then” from the White House.
“There are some of us willing to be bipartisan if he’d reach out. I just don’t see any desire,” the freshman Republican said.
Chaffetz said GOP lawmakers don’t take Obama seriously when he calls for working together because he doesn’t give them face time when it comes to finding common ground on policy issues.
“It’s somewhat laughable that he has any sort of record that is bipartisan. We never get invited into the room. He could try to call us a spoilsport at the party, but we never see the guy,” he said.
Other Republicans say they are willing to work with Obama to advance one of his priority issues, immigration reform, if he would only just ask. Rep. Jeff Flake, who co-sponsored bipartisan immigration reform legislation in 2007, said he has yet to hear from the White House about how he can help move the issue forward — something he said needs to happen sooner rather than later.
“We can’t wait another three years on this. We shouldn’t have to. We should be able to get something done,” the Arizona Republican said. He noted that he was not invited to Tuesday’s immigration meeting at the White House, but he said he was invited to Obama’s speech today on the need for immigration reform.
If the speech is going to be about the need for a comprehensive package, “I’ll be there for that message,” he said. “But I don’t want to be there just as a prop if it’s just going to be more of the same.”
Senate Republicans by and large praised Obama for holding a bipartisan meeting on energy reform on Tuesday. But even some of the president’s biggest GOP allies bristled upon hearing Obama’s criticisms of the GOP in his Wednesday speech.
“This administration’s got a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach to governing. One day they want Republican support, the next they are out blasting us,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said. “At least this is consistent with how the president has treated the American people since day one. He talks centrist and moderate and then advances a far-left liberal agenda. That’s not how you find consensus.”