President Obama's New Best Friends: Senate Republicans

President Obama suggested maybe some House Republicans might want to consider acting more like nice Republican senators in a speech about the economy on Wednesday. 

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President Obama suggested maybe some House Republicans might want to consider acting more like nice Republican senators in a speech about the economy on Wednesday. The economy is recovering from the Great Recession, he said, if it weren't for Congress. As he put it, a "sizable group of Republican lawmakers" were threatening to not raise the debt ceiling or end the sequester. He continued:

A growing number of Republican Senators are trying to get things done, like an immigration bill that economists say will boost our economy by more than a trillion dollars.  But a faction of Republicans in the House won’t even give that bill a vote, and gutted a farm bill that America’s farmers and most vulnerable children depend on. 

If you ask some of these Republicans about their economic agenda, or how they’d strengthen the middle class, they’ll shift the topic to “out-of-control” government spending – despite the fact that we have cut the deficit by nearly half as a share of the economy since I took office.

White House aides had told reporters that the speech was not intended to outline new policy proposals, but to set up the debate before he fights Republicans over the debt ceiling and the budget this fall. Hours before Obama gave his speech, Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen reported how the Obama administration had won over the formerly "grumpy" Sen. John McCain. The new "power triangle," Politico says, is McCain, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, and White House chief of staff  Denis McDonough. Politico reports that "This new alliance... is in preliminary conversations to avert a government shutdown over the budget," Politico says. "The real test," McCain says, "will be this fall."

This new alliance appears to be the result of Obama's much-publicized dinner diplomacy kicked off this spring. (McDonough is referred to as someone "who actually cares what senators say and think and do.") On Wednesday, Obama said, "With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop." Notably, McCain was at the center of one of those "phony scandals" — Benghazi. It seems he has stopped.

Not all Republican senators see things like McCain does. Sens. Mike Lee and Marco Rubio say Republicans should shut down the government unless Obama agrees to defund Obamacare. Sen. Pat Toomey criticized House Republicans for giving in on the debt ceiling earlier this year. Sen. Ted Cruz criticized McCain's suggestion that Republicans trust the House GOP to negotiate a debt ceiling increase with the budget, saying, "The senior senator from Arizona urged this body to trust the Republicans. Let me be clear: I don’t trust the Republicans, and I don’t trust the Democrats."

But Obama suggested his support among Republicans is bigger than it looks, "The fact is, there are Republicans in Congress right now who privately agree with me on many of the ideas I’ll be proposing, but worry they’ll face swift political retaliation for saying so," the president said. He challenged Republicans to offer their own programs to grow jobs. Those ideas are needed. Fed chair Ben Bernanke said last week that Congress is hurting the economy. And the recovery Obama touted? As The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews explains, while the unemployment rate has dropped since the peak of the recession, that's almost entirely do to people leaving the workforce by, say, retiring.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.