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New York Times Columnist Michael Shear On Obama V. Bush In Their Fifth Years

Friday, November 15, 2013

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HH: Joined now by Michael Shear, White House reporter for the New York Times. Michael, welcome, thanks for joining me on short notice. Great piece late this afternoon. The Katrina comparison is obviously scaring Democrats.

MS: Well, yeah. I mean, look, I think that it’s possible to overstate and look at the piece and just see the Katrina thing, and I know lots of people, I can see my Twitter feed, you know, lots of people are keying in on that. I think I really intended the piece to be broader and not just look at one incident, but rather draw the comparisons to two presidents, both of whom found themselves kind of as they sort of headed into the twilight of their administrations. And in the last couple of years, find themselves facing a host of political problems, political and policy problems, and that the question I wanted to raise in the piece was is it difficult, it is difficult to sort of pull yourself out of one of those situations as a president. And how likely do people think that President Obama will be able to do what ultimately George Bush was not able to do by the end of his presidency, which is to kind of right the ship.

HH: But he did successfully negotiate the surge. and I spent two hours with your colleague, Peter Baker, on his marvelous Days Of Fire book.

MS: Great guy. Great book. Everybody buy one.

HH: It is. It’s a terrific book.

MS: Right.

HH: That’s why I spent two hours with him. But the fifth year of a presidency is hard. It’s really hard.

MS: Yes.

HH: Harriet Miers was happening at the same time as Katrina as the same time as Iraq. It was a nightmare.

MS: Right.

HH: But now, the President’s got, the new President’s got new sets of problems – Syria and now Obamacare meltdown. Here’s the paragraph I want to ask you about, Michael. You write, “But unlike Mr. Bush, who faced confrontational but occasionally cooperative Democrats, Mr. Obama has a Republican opposition that has refused to open the door to any legislative fixes to his health care law, and has blocked him at virtually every other turn.” First of all, phrase one, when were the Democrats cooperative with Mr. Bush in his second term?

MS: Well, they were cooperative on immigration reform. There was a big push in 2007 and 2006, two different times on immigration reform. That was one. They, on Medicare Part D, which you’re going to ask me when that was, I can’t remember.

HH: It was first term, yeah.

MS: Yeah. But you know, there was a sense, look, I will not, and I did not intend with that sentence to understate the level of animus that existed in this country on the left, let’s say, for President Bush during those years. I mean, he faced a difficult situation, and certainly, you know, his dropping poll numbers over the last couple of years of his administration clearly indicated that the left certainly, and even in some of the middle and the right, was dissatisfied with him. So I take your point on that. I think, though, that even if you look back then, there were moments like the immigration reform bill, like in the first term, the Medicare Part D and some other things, where Democrats at least, you know, kind of kept working with him even as there were, you know, obviously lots of fights. And similarly, in the Clinton years, even as Newt Gingrich was impeaching Bill Clinton, they were also working on budget deals together. And so…

HH: I point you, though, to the Social Security initiative President Bush, which Harry Reid killed in the first month of the second term.

MS: Yup.

HH: …and refused at the urging of others like Talking Points Memo to ever negotiate. That’s the parallel. But now to the second part of the sentence, because I’m genuinely curious. You write, “Obama has a Republican opposition that has refused to open the door to any legislative fixes to his health care law.” What legislative fixes has the President asked for, Michael Shear?

MS: Well, I mean, look, I think that’s a fair question. I think, you know, the President, in the view of the White House, has been that if you take the Republican, especially in the House, the Republicans in the House, but even in the Senate, if you take them at their word, right, what they’ve spent the last, you know, several years since the Affordable Care Act passed, what they’ve spent calling for is not let’s fix Obamacare, you know, let’s accept Obamacare as the law of the land and let’s fix it. They’ve been calling to get rid of it.

HH: Sure, they have.

MS: I mean, I can…

HH: But has he asked, has he asked for anything specific? Because it makes it sound like he’s sent up proposal after proposal like George Bush did on Social Security in 2005, and the Republicans have rejected it. I honestly don’t think he’s requested one specific change to the law. Am I wrong?

MS: I think you’re probably right, and if the sentence makes it sounds like he did, you know, that wasn’t intentional. I guess my point was that this was to draw the contrast between a Congress in Bush’s time which was, you know, at least mildly willing to entertain some discussions, and a Congress that has avowedly, a Republican part of the Congress that has avowedly and proudly said you know, our intention is to block him at every turn. I don’t think most Republicans in that, in the Congress would even contest that.

HH: Interesting, Michael.

MS: They would wear that proudly…

HH: I agree.

MS: …as a badge of honor.

HH: But I think the parallel is actually 2005-2006, the Democrats were as obstructionist as anything the Republicans have been in 2013 and probably 2014. This is the key two years, and I think they’ve been exactly the same. That’s why I was curious about that paragraph, but I appreciate Michael Shear coming on, and I agree with him that Peter Baker’s Days Of Fire is a terrific book. And the Michael Shear piece is over at the front page of the New York Times.

End of interview.

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