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What I can say unequivocally is that there has never been a time in which I did not say, ‘Look, you tell me how you want to do this.
Give me a sense of how you want to approach it.’ I think if you talk to somebody like a John Boehner, he’ll acknowledge that I’m pretty good at maintaining both my calm and my good humor in these meetings.
The moment in which I realized that Republican leadership intended to take a different tack was actually as we were shaping the stimulus bill, and I vividly remember having prepared a basic proposal that had a variety of components: tax cuts, funding for the states so that teachers and firefighters wouldn’t be laid off, an infrastructure component, and so forth.
We felt that as an opening proposal it was ambitious but needed, and that we would begin negotiations with the Republicans and they would show us things that they thought also needed to happen.
The conversations I have privately with Republicans are always very different than the public presentations that are made of them.
Even when their leadership wanted to cooperate, the tenor of the Republican base had shifted in a way that made it very difficult for them to cooperate without paying a price internally.
Every economist I’ve talked to—including Republican economists — thinks that we need to do a big stimulus, and I’m willing to work with you to figure out how this package looks.’ And typically, what you’d get would be, ‘Well, Mr.
President, I’m not sure that this big-spending approach is the right one, and families are tightening their belts right now, and I don’t hear a lot of my constituents saying that they want a bunch of big bureaucracies taking their hard-earned tax money and wasting it on a bunch of make-work projects around the country.
There have been times when I’ve said confidently that the fever is going to have to break, but it just seems to get worse.They may not have been representative of Republicans across the country, but John Boehner and Mitch Mc Connell had to worry about that mood.It’s pretty hard for them to publicly say, ‘Obama’s a perfectly reasonable guy, but we just can’t work with him because our base thinks he’s the Antichrist.’ It’s a lot easier for them to say, ‘Oh, the guy’s not listening to us,’ or ‘He’s uncompromising.’ As a consequence, there were times that I would meet with Mitch Mc Connell and he would say to me very bluntly, ‘Look, I’m doing you a favor if I do any deal with you, so it should be entirely on my terms because it hurts me just being seen photographed with you.’ Other times I’d tease them about it and say, ‘Look, if you need some help — me attacking you, or, you know …’ During the health-care debate, there was a point in time where, after having had multiple negotiations with [Iowa senator Chuck] Grassley, who was the ranking member alongside my current Chinese ambassador, [Max] Baucus, in exasperation I finally just said to Grassley, ‘Is there any form of health-care reform that you can support?History depends on who gets to tell the story, of course, and while we took care in our choice of storytellers, the perspectives here are by no means complete (or unskewed).The timeline, too — essentially a litany of events, some major and others telling but trivial — is painfully selective (to us, and probably you).