House Speaker John Boehner pulled out of last summer’s historic debt deal after President Barack Obama pushed him one step too far with his demands, a new book by Watergate journalist Bob Woodward reveals.
The deal was just about tied up when Obama pressed the Ohio Republican to include more taxes, a demand that Boehner felt would never fly with his GOP colleagues.
Obama called three times, ABC News
, which has seen a copy of the book, due to be released on Tuesday, reports.
“But the speaker didn't return the president's phone call for most of an agonizing day, in what Woodward calls a ‘monumental communications lapse’ between two of the most powerful men in the country.
When Boehner eventually called back, he canceled the whole deal, sending Obama into “a flash of pure fury.” One staffer in the room said the president was gripping the phone so tightly he thought he would break it.
Boehner told Woodward, Obama was “spewing coals” over the broken deal: “He was pissed. . . . He wasn’t going to get a damn dime more out of me. He knew how far out on a limb I was. But he was hot. It was clear to me that coming to an agreement with him was not going to happen, and that I had to go to Plan B.”
Woodward is due to appear on ABC’s Nightline on Monday to promote the book called “The Price of Politics.”
Obama himself told Woodward. “I was pretty angry,” adding, “There’s no doubt I thought it was profoundly irresponsible, at that stage, not to call me back immediately and let me know what was going on.”
Obama’s side told Woodward that Boehner backed off the deal to reduce the nation’s deficit because he was getting too much heat from within his own party, ABC says.
Woodward says in the book that whatever the truth of the matter: “It was increasingly clear that no one was running Washington. That was trouble for everyone, but especially for Obama.”
Boehner told him he believed Obama was trying to reach a compromise “but there was nobody steering the ship underneath him.”
"They never had their act together. The president, I think, was ill-served by his team,” said Boehner. “Nobody in charge, no process. I just don't know how the place works. To this day, I can't tell you how the place works. There's no process for making a decision in this White House. There's nobody in charge."
After the deal broke down, Congress decided to act alone, pushing Obama out of negotiations.
He was “voted off the island,” Woodward says. The short-term deal they reached is leading to the so-called “fiscal cliff” after the election.
The book says House Majority Leader Eric Cantor believed Boehner was “a runaway horse” who needed reining in. It alleges that he wasn’t even told that Boehner and Obama were meeting to try to resolve the debt crisis due to fears that he would try to scupper any deal with his own party.
But the book heaps praise on vice president Joe Biden for reaching out to Republicans. At one stage Biden and Cantor told each other that if each were in charge of their own party’s negotiations they would deal with things differently and “could come to a deal.”
Biden was vital to negotiations because Obama had little personal rapport with senior Republicans in Congress, Woodward writes. The vice president’s ability to deal with the Senate Minority Leader led to aides calling him “the McConnell Whisperer.”
Larry Summers, a top economic adviser to Obama, who also served under President Bill Clinton, said Obama’s personality was a big hindrance to the talks.
“Obama doesn't really have the joy of the game,” Summers said. “Clinton basically loved negotiating with a bunch of pols, about anything, whereas, Obama, he really didn't like these guys."
An example of the White House’s blundering came when he gave a speech on the debt crisis and ripped into House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s plan as “changing the basic social compact in America,” — not knowing that Ryan had been specifically invited along by an aide.
Ryan stormed out telling Obama’s economic adviser Gene Sperling “I can’t believe you poisoned the well like that,” as he left.
Obama told Woodward, he accepts that Ryan would have thought he was trying to embarrass him. “We made a mistake,” the president said.
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