As part of a whirlwind media tour that included appearances on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” and NBC’s “Today,” veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward stopped off at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Friday morning.
Woodward was joined by former Obama top adviser David Axelrod, now a MSNBC contributor. Axelrod voiced his disapproval of Woodward’s recent criticisms of the White House, and discussed his now-famous email exchange with Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling, who told Woodward he would regret criticizing the Obama administration’s handling of the sequester.
AXELROD: I was the city hall bureau chief of The Chicago Tribune when I was 25 years old, and the mayor threatened to have me ejected from City Hall because she didn’t like the coverage I was doing. So I know what intimidation is. And Bob, you know, the headline in The Washington Post, your newspaper, was “Woodward says that he was threatened by the White House.”
WOODWARD: But I never have, I never have. Come on. You know that. No.
AXELROD: They got the impression from what you said that you felt you were being threatened, and you just read to the Politico one line from that email. When the full emails came out, they were as cordial as can be. His email was cordial, and your response was cordial. So if you felt threatened, why didn’t you say to Gene, “Don’t threaten me?”
WOODWARD: No, I did not feel threat — you know, what I have said, David, come on. You are putting words in my mouth. I said I don’t think this is the way to operate. And you and I have had many discussions. You’ve never said to me, “Oh, you’re going to regret doing that.” Am I correct?
AXELROD: Yes, but this was a specific discussion about a specific point you had raised. It seemed like Gene, in that email, was very, very polite in the way that he pushed back on it.
WOODWARD: You should have heard the —
AXELROD: I’m not putting words in your mouth, Bob. It’s your newspaper that said, you said you were threatened.
Scarborough then said he interpreted Sperling’s use of the word “regret” to mean “watch out, duck.” Woodward agreed, calling the term “code” over Axelrod’s objections.
But Woodward said his central point was that what was going on with the sequester was unnecessary and the fault of government, which was being missed in this back-and-forth he is having with the White House.
AXELROD: We all agree these are not the right way to move forward. The president agrees with that. But Bob, from the very beginning, he said we need a balanced way forward that includes both cuts, and that includes cuts in entitlements, and revenues. And that’s exactly what he wants to do now. And to say — I think what Gene was reacting to be that you suggested he had moved the goalposts.
WOODWARD: Well, he has.
AXELROD: The goalposts have been in the same place from the very beginning.
WOODWARD: No, they have not. Because in 2011, he made a deal. [Vice President Joe] Biden and Senate Minority Leader [Mitch] McConnell made a deal that we won’t have to go back for more borrowing authority negotiations in the election year 2012, something very important to the president and to you and to the White House staff. And the agreement was then there would be, in the sequester, which we’re now dealing with, no tax increases. It is a lay-down case that he has changed — the president has changed the argument here. Now, is that a felony? Is that a big deal? No, but it’s the reality.
AXELROD: It’s not a felony or a big deal, it’s just not true. The fact is that the president said that — the sequester was never meant to go forward. And the president said the way to solve it has —
WOODWARD: Ah, but it has.
AXELROD: — and the way to solve it is a balanced approach that includes both revenues and entitlement reforms. And as we’ve discussed here, that’s the only way that it can move forward. He still believes that. That’s what he said all through 2011, 2012 and 2013. The goalposts are right where he put them in the first place.
SCARBOROUGH: Bob, final word.
WOODWARD: The goalposts got moved, and they know it, and that’s what they’re upset about. Look, he made a deal in 2011. He got an immediate benefit. And the Republicans are out there saying, “OK, we’ll go along with the sequester.” They are to blame. Everyone’s to blame. But the sequester is a giant nightmare. And it could have a real impact on the economy and people’s lives as the president has said. And that’s what this is about, not some kind of email exchange I had with somebody in the White House.