Obama Gets Tough on GOP 04/18 12:18
Diplomacy is out, blunt talk is in as President Barack Obama and his White
House team single out Republican lawmakers by name for criticism over their
words and actions on Iran, Cabinet nominations and climate change.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Diplomacy is out, blunt talk is in as President Barack
Obama and his White House team single out Republican lawmakers by name for
criticism over their words and actions on Iran, Cabinet nominations and climate
Even amid glimmers of bipartisanship in Washington, the White House approach
amounts to this: when you can't join 'em, beat 'em.
In the past week, the president and his spokesman have targeted Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona
and Charles Grassley of Iowa for their words and actions on the Iran nuclear
deal and the delayed confirmation of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.
"Enough. Enough!" Obama declared Friday, delivering a testy lecture to
Senate Republicans over the long wait Lynch has faced since he nominated her in
early November. "This is embarrassing, a process like this."
This is a White House unleashed, dispensing with niceties for the kind of
blunt talk some of Obama's allies have been demanding for some time. A
president who once ran on the promise of changing the tone in the capital now
seems to have fully embraced its political combat.
Last Saturday, Obama hit McCain hard. The 2008 GOP presidential nominee had
declared a major setback in the Iran talks after Iran's supreme leader demanded
that sanctions against Tehran had to be lifted immediately after a deal went
The preliminary deal says the sanctions will be lifted as Iran proves it is
complying with limits on its nuclear program.
Obama cast McCain's criticism as an assault on the credibility of Secretary
of State John Kerry.
"That's an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all
boundaries," Obama said. "That's a problem. It needs to stop."
He went on: "We have Mitch McConnell trying to tell the world, oh, don't
have confidence in the U.S. government's abilities to fulfill any climate
change pledge that we might make."
On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest singled out Grassley, noting
that Grassley had once urged Obama not to push through Lynch during the lame
duck Senate in November and December but now said Democrats should have acted
on her when they had a Senate majority. Earnest called Grassley's stance
Asked how harsh words might help his cause, Earnest replied: "Being nice has
gotten us a 160-day delay. So maybe after they look up 'duplicitous' in the
dictionary we'll get a different result."
It was the kind of "ouch" moment seldom heard from the White House.
Republicans have their own eye-rolling response.
"We're used to it," said McConnell, whose frequently jousts with Senate
Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "We used to get it from the Democratic
Still, Pat Griffin, who was legislative director in the Clinton
administration, said the tone from the White House dovetails with the
aggressive strategy Obama has set since his party lost control of the Senate in
November and put Congress in Republican hands.
"I think the president since the election has kept these guys on their
heels," Griffin said. Obama and his aides "have come to understand that you
don't get the attention of these guys and the attention of the country without
having some edge."
Republicans maintain Obama would be better off working on bipartisan
efforts, such as trade. Top lawmakers on Thursday revealed a bipartisan
agreement to give Obama authority to negotiate trade deals without having to
face delays in Congress. But many Democrats oppose such deals, fearing they
will cost jobs or lower environmental standards.
"Rather than spending so much time criticizing people like Chuck Grassley
and myself, he ought to be out there lining up the Democratic votes for trade
promotion authority," McConnell said in an interview Friday. "This is a time
for presidential leadership."
As for Lynch, McConnell said, "The cheap shots at Sen. Grassley were
Lynch's confirmation has been delayed because McConnell has wanted to pass a
sexual trafficking bill through the Senate first. That bill has been held up
because of Democratic objections to anti-abortion language in the bill.
McConnell predicted the dispute would be resolved next week, opening the way
for a vote on Lynch.
For many Democratic allies of the White House, Obama's confrontational talk
could have come even sooner.
"If you're sitting at the White House looking at Republicans on Capitol
Hill, especially on the House side, you can't expect either much respect from
them or a willingness to get much done," said Jim Manley, a Democratic
strategist and former top aide to Reid. "Point two, as we move into the primary
season, the base is looking for a more combative tone from the White House as
The last two years of a second term are especially liberating for
presidents. They don't face re-election and they don't feel they have much to
lose legislatively by going on the offensive.
"It feels good to do that when you have been bottled up," said Matt Bennett,
a veteran of the Clinton White House.