In what is becoming a regular routine of using the White House Briefing Room to court support for his budget deal, President Obama used his appearance today before the reporters who cover him (and a national television audience) for a new political ploy: driving a wedge between House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow House Republicans who are backed by the Tea Party movement—which is, by far, a majority of the Republicans in the House.
Aside from his remarks about Boehner and the Republicans, many correspondents left the White House after their hour-long session with him wondering just what was newsworthy about it. As one recently arrived foreign correspondent put it: “Whenever the President says he’s going to hold a press conference, our network automatically cuts in on whatever is on the air, assuming it will be big news. Quite honestly, I don’t see why I should even be here today.”
Speaker Boehner, the President said, “would like to do something big” but “his problem is his [Republican] caucus.” Getting Republicans that Boehner presides over to come around to a compromise on the budget “is going to take some work on his side,” Obama said.
Obama mentioned the speaker again in a response to a question from George Condon of the National Journal, who asked whether Boehner is in “control of his caucus.” The President wouldn’t touch that, but did say that Boehner “is a good man who wants to do what is right for his country.” He went on to say that the rest of the House Republican Conference needs to recognize that “democracy works when people listen to each other” and then go on to “make compromises.”
Everyone knew what Obama was talking about and what he meant: that Boehner, as numerous published reports suggested over the weekend, leaned very much toward agreeing to lifting the tax “loopholes” for higher-income Americans and, in return, getting much more than the $2 trillion in spending cuts that the President had come to the table with. Boehner’s sudden statement Saturday that Obama was adamant about raising taxes was followed by no decisive action being taken at the Sunday summit between the White House and congressional leaders—and the continuing impasse between the White House and the Republican-controlled House.
If Obama felt he could somehow get something out of Boehner in terms of the speaker persuading some in his caucus to back a budget deal with the desired ending of tax “loopholes,” there are those who would argue that he was mistaken. More than one-third of the members in the largest Republican majority in the House since 1946 were freshmen elected last November for the first time. Almost to a person, each of the 87 freshmen was backed by the Tea Party movement and/or has signed the pledge of Americans for Tax Reform, promising to oppose new or higher taxes. The arithmetic in the caucus, then, works to their advantage—not Obama’s—and Boehner certainly knows this.
For the foreseeable future, Speaker Boehner is not likely to cave to the White House. He knows where the votes are for him to remain speaker.