President Obama may be having second thoughts about bringing Bill Clinton to the White House to talk about the tax-cut deal with Republicans – at least about having the former president join him for an impromptu appearance in the press room Friday.
Obama’s been trying to convince fellow Democrats that the agreement with the GOP on tax issues and unemployment compensation is the best he could get given the “shellacking” their party took in the midterm elections, both for the economy and politically – especially with an eye to 2012.
There’s been a minor revolt among House Democrats, who could be heard chanting “Just say no!” in a behind-closed-doors meeting. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont (who caucuses with Democrats) spent eight hours in a personal mini-filibuster railing against the deal Friday.
So Obama brought in Clinton as a political bigfoot and skilled orator to make the case. And orate Clinton did.
But the White House cannot have been pleased with how the last-minute press conference was reported. A sample of headlines: “Bill Clinton Takes Back The White House,” “Bill Clinton seizes control of White House press room,” and “Obama exits, Clinton keeps talking.” Or this one in particular: “Handing Clinton the Mic: A Sign of Obama's Confidence? Or Desperation?” Ouch.
Obama made a few remarks, then turned the podium over to Clinton. Obama eventually left for a White House Christmas party (he’d kept Michelle waiting), but Clinton held forth for another half hour – ranging not only over the tax-cut deal but Haiti, relations with China, the START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, and energy policy.
Here’s a sampling of journalistic reviews….
Alex Pareene at Salon: “Suddenly, Bill Clinton was the president again, in what was one of the weirdest White House Friday night newsdumps I have ever witnessed.”
Dan Balz at the Washington Post: “After brief remarks by Obama, Clinton slid behind the lectern as if he'd never left the building. For a time it looked like he might never leave, as he fielded questions from a White House press corps eager to keep him as long as it could. He stroked his chin. He folded his arms and looked pensive. He gesticulated expansively. He was part professor and full politician enjoying the spotlight.”
Peter Baker at the New York Times: “By the end of last week, it certainly looked as if Barack Obama had outsourced his presidency to Bill Clinton. First, he cut a Clintonian-style deal with Republicans on tax cuts and then he literally turned over the White House lectern to his predecessor.”
“Count this among the greatest miscalculations of President Obama's career: ‘I'm going to let him speak very briefly,’ Obama said Friday, upon introducing Bill Clinton in the White House briefing room for his triumphant, self-adulating return. Clinton, a former president who still pines for the limelight, did not speak very briefly…. For the first part of Clinton's performance, Obama, the current president, who never acts so freely in the briefing room, calling on reporters at will, stood by stoically watching the spectacle. The television cameras cut Obama out of the shot, making it look for most of the world like Clinton was again president, holding forth before the presidential seal.”
There’s an old saying in Washington: “The most dangerous place is between a politician and a camera.” (Most often applied to Sen. Chuck Schumer.) Maybe that’s the real reason Obama ducked out of the Friday press conference with Clinton.