Waxman Gives Obama Lessons in Negotiation, Again

Update: As Dday corrects me, both these lessons in negotiation describe the same confrontation that took place on June 2.

DDay linked to this story describing Henry Waxman confronting President Obama because he had given the Republicans the impression he would cave on debt negotiations.

One Democrat who was there said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) bluntly asked Obama whether he was willing to fight for Democratic priorities amid GOP calls for trillions of dollars in spending cuts.

In asking the question, Waxman said he’d asked several Republicans about their White House meeting the day before and had been concerned by their response.

“To a person, they said the president’s going to cave,” Waxman told Obama, according to his colleague’s account.

“If you’re not going to cave, eliminating that misunderstanding is very, very important to the negotiations,” the lawmaker said, retelling Waxman’s message. “And if you’re going to cave, tell us right now.”

Obama, however, “didn’t answer the question,” the Democrat added. “Obama got in a huff, and he said, ‘I’m the president of the United States, my words carry weight’ — which is not the answer,” the lawmaker said. “That’s not what anyone challenges. It’s whether he is doing this negotiation in the right way.”

It’s not the first time Waxman has voiced Democrats’ frustration with Obama’s serial capitulations to the Republicans.

Earlier this month, they had a nearly identical confrontation in part on precisely the same issue (championing Democratic priorities in negotiations).

The challenge — on behalf of the many Democrats who have long complained that Obama is not making enough use of his White House megaphone — was principally delivered by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), according to the attendees. Waxman, lawmakers said, called for stronger action across the board, rather than on a particular issue.

But Obama responded that he has to be more careful and more considered than that, and that he is executing an existing plan.

The president has heard the complaint before. Democrats have accused Obama repeatedly of ceding too much ground to the GOP, especially on health care and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. But attendees said the critique appeared to rub him the wrong way on Thursday.

“He was a little testy with the Waxman question. Essentially, Mr. Waxman was urging him to fight more,” one legislator said. “The president reminded folks that he’s the president sitting in that chair and he knows how to negotiate.”

Obama also told the assembled Democrats not to count on more fiery rhetoric from the Oval Office.

“He said, ‘There’s a difference between me and a member of Congress,'” another lawmaker said, paraphrasing the president as saying: “When I say something the markets react, all of society reacts, other countries react. I’ve got to be careful with what I say. I can’t just say it for brinkmanship. I’ve got to say it in a way so that I get what I want said, but I don’t upset markets and so on.”

Aside from the way this earlier article–citing a bunch of progressives claiming they had been heard–showed Democrats getting duped into believing Obama listens to them as often as Obama gets shellacked in negotiations with Republicans, I’m most amused by the underlying logic of the report.

Waxman told Obama that every single Republican he consulted had told Waxman Obama was going to cave on Democratic issues.

Obama’s testy response (I love imagining, btw, the 6’1″ Obama getting pissy as the 5’5″ Waxman challenges him on these issues) was that his “his words carry weight.”

But of course, every Republican asked said that Obama was going to cave.

That either means Obama told them he was going to cave (which is the only scenario in which Obama shouldn’t be ashamed at how little weight his word carries with Republicans). Or Obama’s claim his words carry weight is utterly belied by Republican mockery of his resolve.

Maybe after being blown off yet again, the Democrats will stop being the only ones around who believe Obama’s word carries any weight.

43 replies
    • phred says:

      And ask Waxman to be specific about each and everything he has done to fight back against Billion Dollar O’s “capitulations”. I’m guessing both the part that interests you and the part that interests me would be depressingly short.

  1. fatster says:

    Thanks so much for this, EW. Maybe some others will be inspired by Waxman and start making comments and asking questions of their own. (I should know better at my age, but hope springs eternal and all that.)

  2. radiofreewill says:

    He might be the president, but so far Obama’s performed more like the Neville Chamberlain of our time…

    • harpie says:

      You mean the blog post that ends with the following paragraph?

      […] What this says to me is that Obama cannot, must not, concede here. If he does, he’s signaling that the GOP can extract even the most outrageous demands; he’s setting himself up for endless blackmail. A line has to be drawn somewhere; it should have been drawn last fall; but to concede now would effectively mean the end of the presidency.

          • klynn says:

            Someone is playing with FDL. I posted the link to Cynthia’s piece and it worked for a few minutes. Now it links to the new front paged diary. Sorry folks, #7 no longer links to Cynthia’s post on a looming financial crisis we will learn more about Wednesday. Odd.

      • phred says:

        Which brings us back to the question of “conceding”. I remain unconvinced Billion Dollar O has conceded a thing in his term to date. He appears to have racked up victory after victory, with only the mildest and most inconsequential of protests from Dems in Congress. They all need big campaign donations and those come from the same place: the aristocracy.

        Until I see some real fight from Congressional Dems, this deserves to treated with the same contempt as all of their previous kabuki. 2012 is right around the corner, we’ll be seeing a lot more of this crap from Waxman and his pals as the election cycle comes around again.

        As for Krugman’s “the end of the presidency”, I haven’t any idea what he means. The President remains extraordinarily powerful, especially considering the total abdication of Congress to assert itself as a co-equal branch of government. Maybe Krugman meant the end of Obama’s presidency, but given the Republicans’ determination to end Medicare as we know it, that hardly seems a safe bet.

        We are adrift on a sea of corruption that knows no party boundaries and with a judiciary hell bent on keeping the spigots of cash flowing to sustain it forever. Distinctions between Dems and Reps have lost all meaning. There might have been a time when Krugman’s dire warning would have been true, but that time has passed us by.

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    Waxman give a lesson, Obama not only ignored it but missed the message.

    Message: The GOP knows you have a spine of putty, Mr. President.

    Boxturtle( The Dems know it too, but generally won’t say so because he’s “their” president)

  4. scribe says:

    Barry’s sounding more and more like Nixon as the walls closed in around him: “I… AM… THE PRESIDENT”

    • BoxTurtle says:

      I thought I was the ony one who thought that. At least Nixon had an excuse, the prosecutors were all over him, his own staff was talking to the senate, he couldn’t identify Deep Throat, and his vice president had troubles of his own.

      Obama’s only excuse would seem to be, unh, is being a spineless incompetant an excuse or an explanation?

      Boxturtle (I’m a terrible poker player, but I bet I could take The President’s money. All day)

      • Stephen says:

        I think “spineless incompetent” is being too kind by a long shot. I want to use words like devious and machiavellian.

  5. JTMinIA says:

    Do any of you play 17-dimensional chess?

    Didn’t think so.

    [goes back to happily reading the NYT]

  6. fatster says:

    O/T, with apologies

    Uganda and Burundi to get US drones to fight Islamists

    “The US is supplying drone aircrafts to Uganda and Burundi to help them fight Islamist militants in Somalia, its defence officials have told the BBC.”


    • lysias says:

      Somali-American named new Somalia prime minister:

      MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somalia’s president on Thursday named a Somali-American economist as the country’s new prime minister, saying the Harvard graduate will help end bickering between the executive and the legislature that has paralyzed the fragile government for months.

      Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, who previously taught economics at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York, was elevated from his position as minister of planning and international cooperation.

      Ali’s appointment puts a highly educated technocrat high within the Mogadishu administration. Ali has graduate degrees in public administration from Harvard and another in economics from Vanderbilt University.

      From Ali’s Wikipedia entry:

      Ali later relocated to the United States for post-graduate studies. In 1988, he obtained a Master’s degree from Vanderbilt University as an AFGRAD Fellow of Economics. Between 1994-1995 and 1995-1998, he was a Bradley Fellow in George Mason University’s Department of Economics and Center for Study of Public Choice, respectively. In 1998-1999, Ali was a Joel Fellow of Political Economy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he earned a Certificate of Taxation from Harvard Law School in 1999 and a Master’s degree in Public administration the same year. In 2000, he also obtained a Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University.[2][4][3]

      . . .

      From 1993 to 1998, Ali was an Adjunct Professor of Economics in the Department of Social Science and Public Service of Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia.[3] Between 1998 and 1999, he was a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID).[4][3]

      In the 2000s, Ali worked as a Research and Forecast Manager for the Commonwealth of Virginia.[4]

      He later moved to Niagara County in New York state, where he was an Associate Professor of Economics in the Department of Commerce of Niagara University,[3][1] having joined the school in 2003.[4]

      Ali also served as a consultant for various international organizations, including the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program.[4]

  7. harpie says:

    As Obama Quietly Pushes for a Nuclear Weapons Renaissance, Wildfire Threatens Los Alamos Nuclear Lab; Democracy Now!; 6/28/11

    GREG MELLO: Well, this is one of the centerpieces of the proposed Obama nuclear weapons build-up, or renaissance. Most people probably don’t know about that. In an effort to get the New START treaty ratified in the Senate, the White House made a lot of promises to Republicans, including building a new factory here at Los Alamos for plutonium warhead cores, called “pits.” That’s this $6 billion building in a complex of large—of other supporting facilities. […]

      • fatster says:

        Oh, you mean those radioactive materials-eating locusts? I was thinking more along the lines of bacteria.

        Go locusts!

        • Peterr says:

          Locusts sounds about right to me.

          It would go well with the 40 days and 40 nights of rain they’re seeing along the Upper Missouri River and its tributaries. From the NWS:

          The upper Missouri River Basin (Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Nebraska) has received 100 to 800 percent of normal precipitation during the past several weeks [as of June 21]. Snow pack runoff entering the upper portion of the river system is more than twice the normal amount.

          Click through for more, including nifty color-coded maps.

          • emptywheel says:

            Oh, I was already accounting for the 40 days and 40 nights of floods.

            1) Earthquake and tsunami takes out first nuke site.

            2) Rain-caused flooding threatens a second nuke site.

            3) Fire threatens a third nuke site.

            Frogs and boils both might be in store, though, I agree. Given the weather frogs are much more likely in the near future than locusts, at least here in teh soppy midwest.

            • bmaz says:

              Man, the natives, they are a restless. The situation is not only desperate, but apparently totally helpless when the denizens of this blog have neither sufficiently listed the various outrages, not been outraged enough about them.

              I iz gettin worried!

            • WilliamOckham says:

              I guess technically what we ought to be worried about is volcanic eruptions. At least according to some theories, that’s what caused the infamous progression of rivers turning to blood, frogs, lice, biting insects, livestock diseases, boils, hail and fire from the sky, locusts, darkness, and deaths of the first born.

              Volcanos definitely threaten nuclear plants on the Pacific Rim…

    • BoxTurtle says:

      Billions for something we don’t need as a chip to get something that should pass on a voice vote.

      What’s wrong with the old pits? We’ve been using the same primary for all our weapons since the 1960’s, until we developed the prolate pit for the w88. Only thing those weapons should need is tritium replacement.

      Boxturtle (perhaps the GOPers are upset afraid because our biggest test was 15mt and the Soviets hit 50mt)

      • DWBartoo says:

        A deceased door-nail, bent, mangled, and rusty, EW, may easily claim a greater moral integrity than a weighty-worded pusilanimous fabulist of Obama’s ilk may ever, in eleventy-‘leven dimensions, aspire to.

        But then, that is not OBama’s function, is it?

        The Great Dismantler, dissembles diligently, ducking duress and duty with splendid impunity.

        BTW, I should be ever much more impressed with Henry Waxman were he to speak directly to hoi paloi about what is now occuring and what, in a true and vibrant democracy, SHOULD be occuring …

        This little spat of Waxman’s with the Big O is more in the nature of play-acting than substance, and, unless Waxman makes SOMETHING of it AND the answer (of sorts) which he received from O, Waxman’s behavior signifies nothing and does not even have the excitment of the brief sound and fury of a cat-fight on the backyard fence, being more in the nature of a polite, if impolitic, belch.

        If Waxman does nothing with this opportunity of being honest with the people, then he receives no praise nor applause from me, only marking up another piece of evidence suggesting that Casper Milquetoast is a real mensch, in comparison to huffing-Henry.


  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Obama is as stubborn as George W. Bush, just as convinced he knows what he is doing, and just as determined to give Republicans whatever they ask for – so that he can imagine himself as a great leader. Pathetic and harmful, to say the least.

  9. BayStateLibrul says:

    Look it’s easy.

    Democrats are pussies.

    I’m definitely a pussy.

    We cave….

    Liberals want to negotiate… Republicans are wicked arsholes.

    Aren’t you happy being a Dem and at least feeling good about other people?

    Republicans are only interested in greed….

    We win in the end…

    I know it’s frustrating but, have a beer and celebrate…

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    But you want the things you are negotiating for; Mr. Obama either wants what his toughest opponents want or he wants merely to appear in charge of a process and doesn’t give a hoot about any of its outcomes, except that he not appear to be angry, liberal or intent on upsetting his parents or betters.

  11. fatster says:

    Another O/T, more apologies

    Latest Guantánamo prison camp suicide was ‘indefinite detainee’

    The last two men to leave Guantánamo, both dead, were among the secret population of captives called “indefinite detainees.”

    ‘“It’s a sad case, a very sad case,” said his Miami attorney Paul Rashkind on Tuesday. A federal public defender, Rashkind had been on the Afghan’s case for about a year. He said, though he had never been told of his client’s status as an indefinite detainee, he might have been able to persuade the government otherwise.”


  12. prostratedragon says:

    Earlier today someone who I don’t think was actually snarking mentioned the 13th Amendment, thereby echoing a conclusion I came to a while ago. In that light, get a load of this, from Mike Konczal:

    Is There a Movement Conservative Push to Privatize Parole?

    ALEC has since moved to the private prison game. In line with the idea that we can’t do good public policy that helps people without bribing the rich and powerful, the JPI report mentions this: “a 2007 brief by ALEC recommended releasing people early from prison with conditional release bonds, similar to bail bonds, effectively setting up bonding companies as private parole agencies.”

    Links to the report in question are at the post.

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