The moment in which I realized that Republican leadership intended to take a different tack was actually as we were shaping the stimulus bill, and I vividly remember having prepared a basic proposal that had a variety of components: tax cuts, funding for the states so that teachers and firefighters wouldn’t be laid off, an infrastructure component, and so forth.
We felt that as an opening proposal it was ambitious but needed, and that we would begin negotiations with the Republicans and they would show us things that they thought also needed to happen.
It was a calculation based on what turned out to be pretty smart politics but really bad for the country: If they cooperated with me, then that would validate our efforts.
If they were able to maintain uniform opposition to whatever I proposed, that would send a signal to the public of gridlock and dysfunction, and that would help them win seats in the midterm. Typically, what would happen, certainly at the outset, would be that I would say, ‘We got a big problem, we’re losing 800,000 jobs a month.
History depends on who gets to tell the story, of course, and while we took care in our choice of storytellers, the perspectives here are by no means complete (or unskewed).
The timeline, too — essentially a litany of events, some major and others telling but trivial — is painfully selective (to us, and probably you).
I get along well with John, and Mitch [Mc Connell] is a little bit more close to the vest.
President, I’m not sure that this big-spending approach is the right one, and families are tightening their belts right now, and I don’t hear a lot of my constituents saying that they want a bunch of big bureaucracies taking their hard-earned tax money and wasting it on a bunch of make-work projects around the country.
They may not have been representative of Republicans across the country, but John Boehner and Mitch Mc Connell had to worry about that mood.
It’s pretty hard for them to publicly say, ‘Obama’s a perfectly reasonable guy, but we just can’t work with him because our base thinks he’s the Antichrist.’ It’s a lot easier for them to say, ‘Oh, the guy’s not listening to us,’ or ‘He’s uncompromising.’ As a consequence, there were times that I would meet with Mitch Mc Connell and he would say to me very bluntly, ‘Look, I’m doing you a favor if I do any deal with you, so it should be entirely on my terms because it hurts me just being seen photographed with you.’ Other times I’d tease them about it and say, ‘Look, if you need some help — me attacking you, or, you know …’ During the health-care debate, there was a point in time where, after having had multiple negotiations with [Iowa senator Chuck] Grassley, who was the ranking member alongside my current Chinese ambassador, [Max] Baucus, in exasperation I finally just said to Grassley, ‘Is there any form of health-care reform that you can support?
(That is, how will millennials remember the era in which they were so casually mocked, even as they remade the world with social media and an easy openness about gender?
) Thankfully, we’ve had some help in putting together our time capsule, including from the president, who sat down in August with Jonathan Chait to discuss some critical moments of his tenure.