Obama Laugh Lines Spur Attack from McCain, Other Republicans

Photograph by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

US President Barack Obama makes a statement about fiscal cliff negotiations from the White House December 31, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Can relations between Barack Obama’s White House and Republicans get even worse?

It appears so, even as it also appears that talks between a couple of old Washington hands — Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — will avert the more draconian aspects of the “fiscal cliff.”

Perhaps partly with the markets in mind, Obama decided to provide a nationally televised update on the negotiations early this afternoon. The news was mostly heartening: an agreement was “within sight,” he said.

But with a handful of supporters behind him — guests the White House described as folks who had written to stress the importance of preserving tax cuts for the middle-income bracket — Obama couldn’t resist taking a few shots at the lawmakers with whom he wants an accord.

Obama, stressing the same points he has made in more formal comments, said that since taking office he has aimed for “a larger agreement” that “solves our deficit problems in a balanced and responsible way, that doesn’t just deal with the taxes, but deals with the spending in a balanced way so that we can put all this behind us and just focus on growing our economy.”

He then cracked, “But with this Congress, that was obviously a little too
much to hope for at this time.”

He received laughter from those sharing the stage with him; he sparked scorn and anger at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Republican senators, with time to kill anyway as the final details of the Biden-McConnell deal get hammered out,  quickly took to the chamber’s floor to vent their spleens.

“At a time of crisis, on New Year’s Eve … you had the president of the United States go over and have a cheer-leading, ridiculing-of-Republicans exercise,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona sputtered.

He asked, “Why would the president of the United States want to  do that?”

Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia said Obama’s comments “set us back in civility” and “in deal-making.” Obama didn’t help speed up an agreement with his political foes, Isakson added, “by poking us in the eye.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina struck a more courtly pose, saying that even as he battles Obama by pushing the Republican point of view on specifics, “I want to make you an historic president” who can claim credit for a long-range, bipartisan solution to the government’s fiscal woes.

But, Graham added, that means that rather than a photo-op where Obama gets laughs at the expense of the opposition party, “I want a news conference  where the president is center stage, not surrounded by political activists,” but by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

We won’t hold our breath.

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