President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, the controversial master of centrist politics in the eyes of the Democratic left, are meeting at the White House Friday afternoon as the administration struggles to kill a growing insurgency among his own party’s left wing.
House Democrats were so angry with the deal between Obama and Republicans to extend the Bush tax that on Thursday they chanted “just say no” during a closed door meeting. They also took a nearly unanimous, non-binding voice vote rejecting the tax-cut compromise.
The faltering White House effort to communicate with members its own caucus reduced some House Democrats to profanity. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., told TheHill.com: “This is a lack of leadership on the part of Obama. “I don’t know where the f*** Obama is on this or anything else. They’re AWOL.”
A new Gallup Poll shows that Obama’s approval rating among liberals has plummeted to an all-time low – just 70 percent. The survey was conducted as Obama entered negotiations to work out a deal to extend the tax cuts from all income brackets. Obama’s popularity rating with liberals was 92 percent in May 2009.
The political situation for the White House appeared to go from bad to worse Friday, with the revelation that House Democrats have attached an amendment to a major appropriations bill unrelated to the tax deal, that would prevent the administration from expending any funds for the controversial trial of accused terrorists in civilian courts.
That provision would essentially thwart any effort by the administration to act on Obama’s campaign pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
That the Democratic rebellion appears to be spreading even into the president’s conduct of the war on terror stands in stark contrast to administration’s assurances that the tax deal will ultimately pass.
Aides are saying the Clinton and Obama get-together at the White House was in the works for some time and is not a response to the furor on the left in response to Obama’s decision to support a deal to extend all the Bush tax cuts for two years, in return for extension of unemployment benefits through 2011, and a 2 percent cut in workers’ payroll taxes.
Clinton remains very popular with Democrats, and his support on Obama’s compromise could help the president win the support he needs to stave off the revolt in the House.
“Look I think this is a hissy-fit from the liberal Democrats,” Ken Duberstein, former Reagan administration chief of staff, tells Newsmax. “They’re stomping their feet and banging their head on the table, and ultimately there will be enough of them to go along with Republicans to pass the package.”
Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen told Fox News Friday that there is a lot Obama could learn from how Clinton handled his party’s midterm setback in 1994.
“There’s nobody who has more artfully navigated a move to the center,” Schoen said. “So I think President Obama has much that can be benefited from Clinton’s counsel.”
Schoen told Newsmax earlier this week that he thinks House Democrats are bluffing, and wouldn’t spurn their own president to placate the liberal base. But he added the stakes for Obama are very high.
“If for some reason the legislation is not passed, and the deal collapses, it would serve as a very serious, and potentially mortal, wound to the Obama presidency,” Schoen told Newsmax.
Schoen added that during Clinton’s effort to position himself between the political extremes “we spent a lot of time worrying about the care and feeding of the left. President Clinton had no primary challenge [in 1996], and that’s what President Obama is working on now.”
The Senate is set to vote on the tax-rate compromise on Monday. It appears likely to pass after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added a green-friendly package of ethanol subsidies and alternative energy development credits to sweeten the deal for Senate Democrats.
The bill’s fate in the House remains far less certain. While the new tea-party oriented Congress could always pass the tax-cut extension retroactively in 2011, it could take months to straighten out the tax tables so that workers would begin to feel some relief. Some Democrats clearly don’t see the rush, however.
Texas Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a staunch opponent of the president’s compromise, told MSNBC Friday that the White House is trying to impose a “false sense of urgency” by suggesting the deal must be completed by year’s end. Doggett blasted the GOP-Obama compromise a “bonanza for billionaires that won’t create a single job.”
MSNBC Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP Congressman, praised both Obama’s willingness to compromise Friday and his meeting with Clinton.
“He wasn’t confident enough -- and I know some people will get upset at me, it’s just the reality -- to have Bill Clinton there six months ago … and I think it’s not only good for him, it’s good for America,” Scarborough said.
Duberstein says the president is merely doing what voters expect. “I think you’ve got to pick out some issues where cooperation makes sense, and I certainly think that is what the American people are looking for,” he said.
"The question is whether or not the president will take the lead in sitting down and getting to now and listening to the Republicans so it isn’t just bumper stickers and sound bites, but seeing where they can cooperate, and not just collide,” Duberstein adds.
“So I think it’s incumbent on the president to say … ‘The country wants our leaders to work together and to find common sense solutions, it’s not all my way or the high way. The tea party and Republicans have an awful lot to offer, and we have to find ways to work together.’”
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