Thursday, April 26, 2012
Democrats condemn GOP's plot to obstruct Obama as 'appalling and sad'
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Democrats have rounded on revelations about a private dinner of House Republicans on inauguration day in 2009 in which they plotted a campaign of obstruction against newly installed president Barack Obama.
During a lengthy discussion, the senior GOP members worked out a plan to repeatedly block Obama over the coming four years to try to ensure he would not be re-elected.
The disclosures – described as "appalling and sad" by Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod – undermine Republican claims that the president alone is to blame for the partisan deadlock in Washington.
A detailed account of who was present at the dinner on that January 20 night and the plan they worked out to bring down Obama is provided by Robert Draper in 'Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives', published this week.
In his book, Draper opens with the heady atmosphere in Washington on the days running up to the inauguration and the day itself, which attracted 1.8 million to the mall to witness Obama being sworn in as America's first black president.
Those numbers contributed to a growing sense of unease among Republicans as much the defeat in the White House race the previous November. The 15 Republicans were in a sombre mood as they gathered at the Caucus Room in Washington, an upscale restaurant where a New York strip steak costs $51.
Attending the dinner were House members Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Pete Sessions. From the Senate were Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign and Jon Kyl. Others present were former House Speaker and future – and failed – presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and the Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who organised the dinner and sent out the invitations.
The dinner table was set in a square at Luntz's request so everyone could see one another and talk freely. The session lasted four hours and by the end the sombre mood had lifted: they had conceived a plan. They would take back the House in November 2010, which they did, and use it as a spear to mortally wound Obama in 2011 and take back the Senate and White House in 2012, Draper writes.
"If you act like you're the minority, you're going to stay in the minority," said Keven McCarthy, quoted by Draper. "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign."
The Republicans have done that, bringing Washington to a near standstill several times during Obama's first term over debt and other issues.
On the more immediate future, they discussed targets such as Charlie Rangel, chairman of the House ways and means committee, who Gingrich said was vulnerable over his personal taxes. They would also target Treasury secretary Tim Geithner, demonstrate united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies, and release negative ads against vulnerable Democratic members of Congress.
Draper quotes Gingrich at the end of the meal: "You will remember this day. You'll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown."
Axelrod, who is based at Obama's re-election campaign headquarters in Chicago, condemned the revelation as "sad, appalling but not terribly surprising".