In terms of Washington political drama, Friday was an instant classic.
President Obama ushered former President Bill Clinton to the White House briefing room late Friday for an impromptu press session, then abruptly left the wonky and winsome Arkansan at the podium by himself to defend the Obama administration’s tax deal.
“I’ve been keeping the first lady waiting for about half an hour, so I’m going to take off,” Obama said.
Clinton chuckled, joking, “I don’t want to make her mad. Please go,” and then quickly turned back to the microphone and began taking questions from the White House press corps, which had been given no advance notice of the two presidents’ trip to the briefing room (see video below).
At the same time on Capitol Hill, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, was in his sixth hour of speaking on the Senate floor in a real life filibuster of the president’s tax deal. He began talking shortly before 10:30 a.m. on Friday and was still speaking at 6 p.m.
“I think that the American people don’t like this agreement,” Sanders said, predicting that if the deal to extend the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts for two years were to pass, all cuts – even those for the top brackets, which he opposes – would be “extended long term.”
Despite Sanders’ filibuster, the real obstacles to the deal’s passage are in the House, where Democrats are incensed at the deal, in some ways on substance but also in large part because it was brokered directly with Republicans and without their input.
Clinton’s main purpose in appearing before the press was to lobby the public, but even more so House Democrats, to accept the deal.
“A lot them are hurting now, and I get it,” Clinton said. “I have an enormous amount of respect for the Democrats in the House … I regret that so many of them lost.”
“I can only tell you that my economic analysis is that given all the alternatives that I can imagine actually becoming law, this is the best economic result for America,” Clinton said of Obama’s deal. “And there is no way you can have a compromise without having something in the bill that you don’t like.”
The former president also said he disagreed that Obama did not fight hard enough for concessions, and said that Democrats cannot play a high-stakes game of chicken with Republicans because the economic recovery is still in a precarious position.
“Look, if we had five percent growth and unemployment was dropping like a rock, maybe you could have the so-called Mexican standoff and you could say: ‘It’ll be you, not me, the voters will hold responsible for raising taxes on middle-class people, if they all go down, you know, next year,'” Clinton said.
“That is not the circumstance we face. The United States has suffered a severe financial collapse. These things take longer to get over than normal recessions. We must first make sure we keep getting over it,” he said.
“We have got to pull together, and both sides are going to have to eat some things they don’t like, because we cannot afford to have the kind of impasse that we had last time over a long period of time.”
Clinton also said that “a lot of the hardcore conservatives think the Republicans gave too much,” citing a column by conservative Charles Krauthammer, who he called “a brilliant man.”
Clinton said that divided government was set up to promote “principled compromise,” and said it is an “ethical thing to do.”
One House Republican aide agreed with Clinton, attributing the hostile response to the deal from the left and some portions of the right to unfamiliarity with bipartisan compromise.
“Collaboration like this hasn’t happened in the last two years with a Democrat-dominated Congress, so it seems groups and people don’t know how to react,” the GOP aide told The Daily Caller.
But many conservatives think that while the deal is imperfect, it is a good one, and that it is a positive step towards promoting economic growth and putting pressure on the government to cut spending.