As of now, I am in control here, in the White House

Tag Archives: Bob Woodward

Politico: Grand Bargain All But Impossible

President Obama almost certainly missed his chance to strike a “grand bargain” with Republicans on the deficit, particularly after having taken taxes out of the mix by raising them by $600 billion unilaterally at the beginning of the year, according to Politico.

Republicans, according to the piece, are serious when they say they are finished hiking taxes. And that puts Obama, despite his sudden charm explosion, in a serious bind.

From the article:

Obama would have to persuade Republicans to vote for a tax increase for the second time in less than one year. Can you imagine Boehner and his troops heading into the 2014 midterm elections dominated by conservative activists having to explain, not one, but two increases?

They ate $600 billion in defense cuts that a majority of Republicans wish they could undo rather than discuss even a tiny tax increase. Hard to see them budging now . . .

“Nobody is even talking about a grand bargain,” one of the Senate’s most influential Democratic leadership aides told us. “It is not even on our radar right now.” An adviser to Speaker John Boehner told us that window was slammed shut by Obama’s hardball tactics since the tax hike. “He missed the chance.”

I think the analysis is correct. Republicans who raise taxes again will be welcoming primary challenges all over the nation. And the White House has already socked them with two hits – tax increases and defense cuts. Obama will learn that you can hit someone over the head and apologize only so many times.

This is why Gene Sperling was busy screaming at Bob Woodward. Because he knows Woodward’s contention – that Obama moved the goalposts by trying include tax increases as a substitute for the sequester, which is all about spending cuts – does bodily damage to the president’s effort to extract more revenues from Republicans.

Sperling was likely engaged in a typical White House tactic – bully reporters to erase reporting that isn’t helpful to Obama. But as Politico notes, Republicans already get it.

Woodward: I Didn’t Feel Threatened

Well, now you tell us.

Unfortunately, Woodward’s screwup allows the White House to try to say, “Move along, nothing to see here.”

But I do think there’s been enough information put out over the last 36 hours so that public is much better aware of how the White House attacks Freedom of the Press by bullying and intimidating journalists trying to do their jobs.

Another Victim of White House Abuse Pops Up

Veteran reporter Ron Fournier, the former Associated Press chief White House reporter who now is editorial director for National Journal, shares his own experience with White House bullying, which was occurring apparently even as the whole Bob Woodward episode was going down.

From his story this morning:

I tweeted: “Obama White House: Woodward is ‘willfully wrong.’ Huh-what did Nixon White House have to say about Woodward?”

. . . The (senior White House) official angered by my Woodward tweet sent me an indignant e-mail. “What’s next, a Nazi analogy?” the official wrote, chastising me for spreading “bull**** like that” I was not offended by the note, mild in comparison to past exchanges with this official. But it was the last straw in a relationship that had deteriorated.

As editor-in-chief of National Journal, I received several e-mails and telephone calls from this White House official filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase that Politico characterized as a veiled threat. “You will regret staking out that claim,” The Washington Post reporter was told.

Once I moved back to daily reporting this year, the badgering intensified. I wrote Saturday night, asking the official to stop e-mailing me. The official wrote, challenging Woodward and my tweet. “Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron,” the official wrote.

I wrote back:

“I asked you to stop e-mailing me. All future e-mails from you will be on the record — publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you. My cell-phone number is … . If you should decide you have anything constructive to share, you can try to reach me by phone. All of our conversations will also be on the record, publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you.”

I haven’t heard back from the official.

Fournier is no wimp and he values his sources. He is, in short, one of a handful of reporters in town I really respect. It must have taken heavy torrents of verbal sewage for him to put an end to the relationship.

It occurs to me. What kinds of people are these exactly? They show up for work every day at the most prestigious address in the world and spend a certain portion of their time acting in the most vile manner imaginable.

And they’re running the country. You can’t tell me they isolate this type of behavior and attitude to their phone calls to reporters.

And the president of the United States has no objection. This is our leadership.

Woodward is Probably Wrong

Bob Woodward appears to either be mistaken or to have exaggerated when he claimed that a senior White House official – who turns out to have been White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling – threatened him in response to Woodward’s statements about the White House handling of the sequester.

With the release of the complete emails today by Politico, it is clear that Sperling was most likely suggesting to Woodward that as a policy matter he is wrong, and that he would for this reason “regret” saying that the White House had “moved the goalposts” by seeking tax increases to replace the sequester.

This doesn’t mitigate the fact that the White House routinely bullies the press in order to suppress speech in a systematic way that is light years beyond what any previous White House I’ve covered has done. This is not, as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to suggest today, an strong airing of differences of opinion. It is a preconceived attempt to alter reporting that the White House in many cases knows is perfectly legitimate and an effort to intimidate reporters into not doing their job with tough journalism the next time around.

Nor have I seen a rebuttal to a claim by Democrat Lanny Davis that the Washington Times, for which he writes, was also threatened by the White House.

But unless there is more context that I’m not aware of, there does not appear to be a threat implied by Sperling.

Below is the text of the emails:

From Gene Sperling to Bob Woodward on Feb. 22, 2013


I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)

I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is diffferent. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously.

My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize.


From Woodward to Sperling on Feb. 23, 2013

Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob

Sperling’s apologies may or may not be sincere. Half an hour of screaming seems like a standard White House tactic to get journalists to change their story.

But Sperling, were he threatening Woodward, would probably not have been so incredibly subtle. And Woodward’s response is hardly the outraged protest of someone who thinks he is in danger of retribution.

Report: Gene Sperling Threatened Woodward

Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith is reporting that a “source familiar with the exchange” said National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling is the senior White House official who berated Bob Woodward for half an hour and then threatened him in an email over his reporting on the sequester.

Sperling is a veteran Democratic official who held the same position as NEC Director in the Clinton White House. He’s part political operative and part economist, and if he is indeed the one who bullied Woodward, it wouldn’t be surprising because he is directly involved in both the sequester and the politics of the issue.

Woodward: The White House Threatened Me

Legendary Washington reporter Bob Woodward said  a “very senior person” in the White House threatened that he would “regret” reporting that has been critical of White House handling of the sequester.

Normally this doesn’t surprise me, it’s how the White House operates, bullying reporters who write things it doesn’t like. Frankly, it’s Nixonian. This is suppression of speech. Maybe this will finally shine a seriously bright light on scurrilous Obama White House tactics.

That they would go after Woodward is a bit of a surprise, both because of the respect he commands and because if he decided to really focus his journalistic talents on Obama, we would find out all sorts of things the White House doesn’t want us to know.

In a piece running Thursday evening, Politico describes the exchange that led to the threat:

Bob Woodward called a senior White House official last week to tell him that in a piece in that weekend’s Washington Post, he was going to question President Barack Obama’s account of how sequestration came about – and got a major-league brushback. The Obama aide “yelled at me for about a half hour,” Woodward told us in an hour-long interview yesterday around the Georgetown dining room table where so many generations of Washington’s powerful have spilled their secrets.

Digging into one of his famous folders, Woodward said the tirade was followed by a page-long email from the aide, one of the four or five administration officials most closely involved in the fiscal negotiations with the Hill. “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today,” the official typed. “You’re focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

. . . A White House official said: “Of course no threat was intended.”

Let’s go to the videotape.

Woodward, you’ll note in the first video, suggested to Blitzer that if President Obama “knew that was part of the communications strategy – let’s hope it’s not a strategy . . . ” that he’d put the kabosh on it.

Nonsense. It is a strategy, it has been for a long time, and Obama knows all about it.

Woodward, as you may know, has been correcting the White House as it has tried to deny responsibility for the sequester, which it created. Woodward has said Obama “moved the goalposts” on Republicans by insisting tax increases be part of a deal to avoid the automatic spending cuts.

Earlier Thursday, Woodward said it was a “kind of madness I haven’t seen in a long time” for Obama not to deploy an aircraft carrier because of the looming sequester.

The pressure will now be on for Woodward to name the official who threatened him, or for the White House to fess up.

Governing by intimidation. Suppressing speech. It took 40 years, but Woodward once again is facing off against Richard Nixon in the White House.

Bob Woodward: Obama “Mistaken” on Sequester

Reporter Bob Woodward says President Obama is “mistaken” on the sequester, saying the president misspoke when he said it was Congress’s idea and not his.

Woodward reported in his recent book, “The Price of Politics,” that in fact it was the White House that conjured up the proposal. Speaking to Politico, Woodward charitably offered that maybe Obama didn’t know that his aides had put together the plan.

Honestly, given that Obama hardly pays attention to Congress, I would say it’s conceivable he didn’t know. Though not likely.

Woodward also charitably used the word “mistaken” instead of something else, like “might have lied.”

Nobody in Washington calls anyone else a liar, because almost everyone lies, and because anyone might bump into anyone else in some expense account restaurant downtown, and having to face someone you called a liar might completely ruin lunch.

The sequester would force $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts over ten years, including to the military, if Congress fails to come up with the same amount in deficit reduction of its choice by the end of the year.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney doubled down Tuesday.

“The sequester that was designed and passed by Congress,” said Carney.

I’ll take Woodward’s version.

Woodward: Nobody Was in Charge

Bob Woodward’s new book, The Price of Politics, is an indictment of President Obama’s leadership that cuts through the incessant excuse making we hear out of the White House.

As you are well aware, when Obama and his aides are not blaming George W. Bush for their problems, they’re blaming the Republicans. They take responsibility for nothing, unless it’s of the “I didn’t realize how bad a president Bush was” variety or “I had no idea Republicans could be such intransigent bastards.”

Woodward’s point is that successful presidents plow through problems. Obama had a problem that compares with the one whose anniversary we mark today: an existential threat leveled in this case not by terrorists, but by a deficit that could lead to an economic meltdown that will destroy our way of life.

He didn’t solve it. In fact, the problem has only grown.

Woodward notes that a serious Obama shortcoming is that he doesn’t build relationships in Washington. I can tell you, it’s true.

Both Republicans and Democrats complain that they can’t see him or speak to him, that he is aloof. Lobbyists, who – whatever you think of them – are the voice of millions of businesses, large and small, are excluded from his orbit.

Unlike other presidents I’ve covered, White House meetings between the president and lawmakers are few and far between. This year, busy with preserving his own job, Obama has had practically none.

As you’ll notice in the video below, Woodward is unequivocal in saying that relationships can be the difference between a president saving the nation and not. As Woodward knows, relationships are how Washington happens.

As a journalist myself, I assure you that the main ingredient in the secret sauce behind Bob Woodward, reporter extraordinaire, is the relationships he painstakingly builds. If Diane Sawyer, who interviews Woodward, seems surprised, it’s because he is a reporter and she is not.

The video is from last night’s Nightline.