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Obama Gets Tough on GOP                04/18 12:18

   Diplomacy is out, blunt talk is in as President Barack Obama and his White 
House team single out Republican lawmakers by name for criticism over their 
words and actions on Iran, Cabinet nominations and climate change.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Diplomacy is out, blunt talk is in as President Barack 
Obama and his White House team single out Republican lawmakers by name for 
criticism over their words and actions on Iran, Cabinet nominations and climate 
change.

   Even amid glimmers of bipartisanship in Washington, the White House approach 
amounts to this: when you can't join 'em, beat 'em.

   In the past week, the president and his spokesman have targeted Senate 
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona 
and Charles Grassley of Iowa for their words and actions on the Iran nuclear 
deal and the delayed confirmation of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.

   "Enough. Enough!" Obama declared Friday, delivering a testy lecture to 
Senate Republicans over the long wait Lynch has faced since he nominated her in 
early November. "This is embarrassing, a process like this."

   This is a White House unleashed, dispensing with niceties for the kind of 
blunt talk some of Obama's allies have been demanding for some time. A 
president who once ran on the promise of changing the tone in the capital now 
seems to have fully embraced its political combat.

   Last Saturday, Obama hit McCain hard. The 2008 GOP presidential nominee had 
declared a major setback in the Iran talks after Iran's supreme leader demanded 
that sanctions against Tehran had to be lifted immediately after a deal went 
into place.

   The preliminary deal says the sanctions will be lifted as Iran proves it is 
complying with limits on its nuclear program.

   Obama cast McCain's criticism as an assault on the credibility of Secretary 
of State John Kerry.

   "That's an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all 
boundaries," Obama said. "That's a problem. It needs to stop."

   He went on: "We have Mitch McConnell trying to tell the world, oh, don't 
have confidence in the U.S. government's abilities to fulfill any climate 
change pledge that we might make."

   On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest singled out Grassley, noting 
that Grassley had once urged Obama not to push through Lynch during the lame 
duck Senate in November and December but now said Democrats should have acted 
on her when they had a Senate majority. Earnest called Grassley's stance 
"duplicitous."

   Asked how harsh words might help his cause, Earnest replied: "Being nice has 
gotten us a 160-day delay. So maybe after they look up 'duplicitous' in the 
dictionary we'll get a different result."

   It was the kind of "ouch" moment seldom heard from the White House.

   Republicans have their own eye-rolling response.

   "We're used to it," said McConnell, whose frequently jousts with Senate 
Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "We used to get it from the Democratic 
leader routinely."

   Still, Pat Griffin, who was legislative director in the Clinton 
administration, said the tone from the White House dovetails with the 
aggressive strategy Obama has set since his party lost control of the Senate in 
November and put Congress in Republican hands.

   "I think the president since the election has kept these guys on their 
heels," Griffin said. Obama and his aides "have come to understand that you 
don't get the attention of these guys and the attention of the country without 
having some edge."

   Republicans maintain Obama would be better off working on bipartisan 
efforts, such as trade. Top lawmakers on Thursday revealed a bipartisan 
agreement to give Obama authority to negotiate trade deals without having to 
face delays in Congress. But many Democrats oppose such deals, fearing they 
will cost jobs or lower environmental standards.

   "Rather than spending so much time criticizing people like Chuck Grassley 
and myself, he ought to be out there lining up the Democratic votes for trade 
promotion authority," McConnell said in an interview Friday. "This is a time 
for presidential leadership."

   As for Lynch, McConnell said, "The cheap shots at Sen. Grassley were 
particularly inappropriate."

   Lynch's confirmation has been delayed because McConnell has wanted to pass a 
sexual trafficking bill through the Senate first. That bill has been held up 
because of Democratic objections to anti-abortion language in the bill. 
McConnell predicted the dispute would be resolved next week, opening the way 
for a vote on Lynch.

   For many Democratic allies of the White House, Obama's confrontational talk 
could have come even sooner.

   "If you're sitting at the White House looking at Republicans on Capitol 
Hill, especially on the House side, you can't expect either much respect from 
them or a willingness to get much done," said Jim Manley, a Democratic 
strategist and former top aide to Reid. "Point two, as we move into the primary 
season, the base is looking for a more combative tone from the White House as 
well."

   The last two years of a second term are especially liberating for 
presidents. They don't face re-election and they don't feel they have much to 
lose legislatively by going on the offensive.

   "It feels good to do that when you have been bottled up," said Matt Bennett, 
a veteran of the Clinton White House.


(KA)


 
 
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