President Barack Obama sought to downplay his focus on winning back the House in 2014 at his meeting with House Democrats Thursday, telling the minority caucus “there will be a time for politics but we just had an election. … We need to govern.”
But in the midst of Obama’s bipartisan pivot, Democrats confronted him on agreeing to some entitlement changes, prompting him to highlight his demands for higher taxes.
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, used the second slot in a wide-ranging question-and-answer session to press Obama on his support for “chained CPI,” a proposal to change how quickly Social Security benefits grow over time.
“It was made clear that a lot of us do not want to see chained CPI,” Ellison said after leaving the meeting early, appearing agitated.
Obama said he is open to the policy as a means of preserving Social Security and said he would also support raising payroll taxes to fund it.
“But since we haven’t heard anything from the other side on revenue, this is a moot conversation,” he added.
Obama’s remarks on the 2014 elections came as he repeatedly tried to assure Republicans he was not using negotiations over the sequester and other spending battles to “annihilate” the GOP, in the words of Speaker John A. Boehner.
Trust between the parties is almost non-existent, with rank-and-file Republicans convinced that Obama’s trips to the Capitol this week are a trap, a means of making the GOP appear intransigent down the line.
Rep. Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, embraced Obama’s call to govern in a news conference after the meeting.
“This is a time for us to get things done. And I respect that, and I understand it, and as the chairman of the DCCC, I’ll be part of that,” he said.
But Israel walked a fine line, struggling to identify anything Obama or House Democrats will do differently to fulfill their pledge to “govern.”
“It shouldn’t be earth shattering to anybody that the president of the United States, any president of the United States, would prefer to work with members of his party who will not block him and slam the door on any comprise on any negotiation. There’s nothing new there at all,” Israel continued.
As first reported by CQ Roll Call, Obama called Israel and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on election night, just after leaving the stage where he delivered his victory speech in Chicago, telling them he was turning his focus on winning back the House in 2014.
After discussions between Israel and Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, the president agreed to do numerous fundraisers for congressional Democrats, help recruit candidates and share voter data gathered from the 2012 campaign with the DCCC, steps Israel called “transformational.”
At the Thursday meeting with House Democrats, Obama referred to doubts in Washington that the two parties could come together on fiscal issues.
“There is skepticism about bridging the divide but we’ve got to try,” he said.
After Obama gave brief opening remarks, about 20 lawmakers lined up behind the microphones to ask him questions. After beginning to answer them one by one, Obama began to allow three questions to be asked at once, attempting to answer all three at the same time.