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March 27th, 2017

Insight

Don't fall for Obama's self-serving sob stories

Ramesh Ponnuru

By Ramesh Ponnuru Bloomberg View

Published Oct. 6, 2016

 Don't fall for Obama's self-serving sob stories

Barack Obama is at it again, portraying the partisan battles of his presidency as entirely the result of pigheaded obstructionism by the Republicans -- and twisting the truth to propel the narrative.


In an interview with New York magazine, Obama has returned to one of his favorite stories about the start of his first term. As he tells it, he had expected congressional Republicans to work with him on a stimulus bill. On his way to talk to them he was startled to find that John Boehner, then the leader of the House Republicans, had put out a press release opposing the bill. This is when Obama realized, he says, that Republicans were going to oppose him on whatever he did.


Obama has presented different versions of this story. In this latest one, he was (weirdly) not planning to talk about the stimulus when he addressed House Republicans; in an earlier account he gave to Time, he was. Either way, his story is misleading.

Obama met with congressional Republicans on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. In the days before then, Boehner had said that "we want to work with the new president," but that Republicans had serious concerns about the stimulus bill the congressional Democrats were advancing. Democrats in the House, he said, had turned Obama's vision of bipartisan cooperation "upside down."


On "Meet the Press" two days before the meeting, Boehner predicted that many Republicans would vote no. News accounts at the time noted Republicans' complaints that congressional Democrats had "shut them out of the process."


On Monday, Jan. 26, 2009, House Democrats introduced a stimulus bill without any Republican input. The next day, Obama and congressional Republicans met, and reporters said Obama had signaled his openness to revising the bill. Boehner remained opposed to the unrevised bill, though, and the day after that all House Republicans voted against it.


After the vote Boehner reiterated that he was open to working together:


"House Republicans want to work with congressional Democrats on legislation that fulfills the goal set by President Obama: crafting a bipartisan plan focused on job creation. Unfortunately, the trillion dollar government spending bill before the House today was not that plan, and a bipartisan coalition of Members rightfully rejected it. It is time for Capitol Hill Democrats to finally work with Republicans on a job creation package."

Obama's story is triply wrong. Boehner didn't sucker-punch Obama while he was coming to talk; Boehner's position had been made clear already. He didn't come out against a stimulus. And the bill the Republicans rejected reflected no serious effort to court them.


Republicans haven't covered themselves in glory during the Obama years, and the president takes some fair shots at them in his New York interview. They have been too slow to come up with their own health-care plan. Some Republicans have attacked his foreign policy from every direction serially. But they also had reasons to doubt they could deal with Obama in good faith, and they must find those doubts confirmed when they listen to his self-serving fictions.

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Ramesh Ponnuru has covered national politics and public policy for 18 years. He is an author and Bloomberg View columnist.

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