President Obama sounds like a man who believes he has a mandate and is willing to use it.
In his first press conference since winning reelection, he was insistent on two issues; that he would name United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice as Secretary of State if he chooses, no matter what Republicans’ views of her, and that he will raise taxes on the wealthy. Obama aides have floated Rice’s name as a candidate, although it’s not necessarily clear she will be appointed.
But his tone throughout the hour-long session seemed far from the conciliatory posture of his first term. After spending two years largely unable to do anything because of GOP opposition, the president seemed determine to show that he will now be firmly in charge of policy in Washington.
“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham, and others want to go after somebody? They should go after me,” he said, referring to the Republican senators who have said they would strongly oppose Rice’s nomination if she were tapped. “And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi? And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? And to besmirch her reputation is outrageous. And, you know, we’re after an election now.”
He added, “when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity at the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.”
On taxes, the president said, “I think every voter out there understood that, that was an important debate, and the majority of voters agreed with me. By the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me. So, we’ve got a clear majority of the American people who recognize, if we’re going to be serious about deficit reduction, we’ve got to do it in a balanced way.”
Democrats have long complained that Obama tends to start negotiating from the political center, while congressional Republicans concede nothing, resulting in compromises that lean to the right.
At least for now, the president is rejecting that approach. Obama all but rejected Speaker John Boehner’s suggestion last week that deficit reduction could come simply through cutting tax deductions for the rich, standing by his position that tax rates on the wealthy must increase. He continued his insistence that Congress simply pass a tax cut for the middle class immediately, even though he knows Republicans won’t approve such a cut, as they would then lose leverage on trying to keep in place tax cuts for upper-income people.
His tact resembled that of George W. Bush, who always used to declare the most partisan position possible and note that he did not want to negotiate with himself.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr