Obama’s Republican Outreach

Barack Obama has recently come under attack for failing to use the bully pulpit of the presidency and get some Republicans to support his policies. This includes the op-ed by Maureen Dowd which I mocked and an article in The New York Times which Steve Benen debunked here and here. Barack Obama might not have the skills of Lyndon Johnson but this is also a different era where the rules are considerably different. It is also possible that those who have criticized Obama for failing to reach out to Republicans are unaware of what Obama has actually done.

One Republican Senator which Obama did reach out to (or pander to as David Weigel puts it) was Olympia Snowe:

The benevolent gods of review copies have sent me Fighting for Common Ground, the memoir/jeremiad by former Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. As woe-is-the-Republic texts by retired moderates go, it’s got nothing on 2012’s Arlen Specter offering. There are no tales of obese senators rising, Botticelli-like, from the steam of hot tubs. But it does tell us just how hard the president flop-sweated to bring Snowe into the cloture vote for health care. Snowe recounts a conversation with POTUS after she approved of the Baucus version of reform in committee.

The President also called me after the conclusion of the markup. He began by telling me, “A great statesperson [ed – statesperson?] once said, ‘When history calls, history calls,'” and said I could make history by supporting health care reform when it’s considered on the Senate floor. “You could be a modern day Joan of Arc,” he offered. I laughed and replied, “Yes, but she was burned at the stake!” I added, “I don’t mind taking the heat, but I have to believe it’s the right policy for America.” The President responded, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there with a fire hose.”

Weigel went on to describe what subsequently happened, with Snowe backing down and failing to support the Affordable Care Act. In this case we had Obama proposing what was essentially an old Republican plan (the Republican response to HillaryCare) and he ultimately failed to get a single Republican vote despite trying  to get the support of the Senate’s most moderate Republican. If he couldn’t get the support of Snowe, it is not realistic to expect Obama to have very much success with Republicans currently in Congress on many other measures.

Incidentally some Republicans still have not given up on fighting their old health care policy now that it was passed by Barack Obama. They are still playing games to try to undermine the program while pretending to have concern about people having difficulty obtaining coverage due to pre-existing conditions. They have given up on this, for now, but we can be certain they will pull something else in the future.