The Politico has a story up tonight about how and why the bipartisan, everybody-get-along summit between President Obama and congressional Republicans ended up getting postponed. And a key part of it, according to Hill Republicans, is the GOP’s distrust of Obama after he “crashed” their caucus retreat last January. You’ll remember, this is when President Obama went and spoke at the House GOP retreat in Maryland and actually took pretty free-ranging questions from House Republicans — somewhat akin to ‘Question Time’ in the UK parliament. (See video of the event here.)
Now, because I think it’s essential to understand the point, I’m going to quote the first three grafs of the piece in full.
The roots of the partisan standoff that led to the postponement of the bipartisan White House summit scheduled for Thursday date back to January, when President Barack Obama crashed a GOP meeting in Baltimore to deliver a humiliating rebuke of House Republicans.
Obama’s last-minute decision to address the House GOP retreat – and the one-sided televised presidential lecture many Republicans decried as a political ambush – has left a lingering distrust of Obama invitations and a wariness about accommodating every scheduling request emanating from the West Wing, aides tell POLITICO.
“He has a ways to go to rebuild the trust,” said a top Republican Hill staffer. “The Baltimore thing was unbelievable. There were [House Republicans] who only knew Obama was coming when they saw Secret Service guys scouting out the place.”
Honestly, I’m not even sure what to make of this. Not only does this version of events seem preposterous on its face, I didn’t even realize this was their storyline.
Let’s start with this whole idea that Obama somehow just showed up and blew up their retreat. Crashed, ambushed, etc. This was definitely not my recollection. I thought that the House Republicans invited Obama. And he accepted. Indeed, I remember for what I think were several days in advance our Eric Kleefeld telling me how excited he was to see a US equivalent of the Brits’ question time.
So was it an ambush? Well, My God, not even close. Here’s the press release from Mike Pence, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, thanking the president on January 13th for “accept[ing] our invitation to meet with the Republican Conference later this month.” And here’s the Politico’s write up from January 12th, the day before. In other words, that’s more than two weeks before these House Republicans who must have spent the month in a sensory deprivation chamber were stunned to see the president’s motorcade driving up unannounced to crash their party. And if they’d forgotten here’s the write-up from The Hill the day before the event …
Emboldened by an unexpected victory in Massachusetts and frustrated with a “partisan” State of the Union address, House Republicans are eager to meet with President Barack Obama on Friday.
So here they are all gunned up and eagerly awaiting President Obama’s ambush of them that they didn’t know anything about.
I have to confess that I find it genuinely distressing that these folks can whip up a heap of blatant nonsense like this and it gets played pretty much at face value when a simple look through the archives of the half dozen or more sites that cover Washington show that the whole idea is laughable.
I’m sure different people have different recollections of what happened during that meeting. But President Obama was accepting the House GOP’s invitation. At the time everyone thought the idea of the meeting was an interesting novel idea, even with the president taking questions. It was clear that for the House GOP this was inviting the president to meet them on their turf rather than at the White House where opposition leaders are always put in a somewhat diminished position just because of the trappings of the place. And by the time the event rolled around, Scott Brown had won the Massachusetts Senate race. So, as The Hill put it, the House Republicans were “eager” to meet with the president.
Only it didn’t work out according to plan. The president came, talked, took questions. And with the president there making his own arguments it was much more difficult for folks like Pence and others to claim, unrebutted, that Health Care Reform was going to cost $50 trillion, enforce mandatory castration and have one out of five grannies ritually slaughtered on a stone slab to bend the cost curve for longterm care. Put simply, the Republicans came off looking kind of stupid, unable to make their arguments when the president was there to point out the holes in their arguments. In this case, I was sympathetic to the president and to reform. So I’m sure people who didn’t share those sympathies saw the whole encounter differently. But House Republicans’ reaction then and now suggests they saw it pretty much as I did — that the president embarrassed them. Not by crashing the event, or ambushing them. But just because he did better at it than they thought he would and they didn’t do well at all. They invited him to make him look diminished. But he ended up making them look unserious and unprepared because they weren’t able to respond when he pointed out the holes in their arguments.
All of which means that this whole storyline of the president wrongfooting them or showing up uninvited is made up out of whole cloth. And the real story is that they’re not confident it won’t happen again if they have some sort of public encounter with him.
This whole episode, this made up story, is embarrassing.
(ed.note: Evan McMorris-Santoro contributed to this post.)