Obama Silent On Fiscal Cliff During Negotiations
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Last week, President Obama hammered away constantly and publicly about the fiscal cliff. This week, near silence. The change in tactics coincides with direct conversations between the two sides. As plans go back and forth from Congress to the White House in pursuit of a deal, NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on the president's shifting strategy.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: For a while, you couldn't turn on the news without seeing President Obama talking about the fiscal cliff. Here was the lineup in just one week: Last Monday, he held a Twitter chat; Tuesday, he met with governors and did a Bloomberg TV interview.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're going to have to have higher rates for the wealthiest Americans.
SHAPIRO: Wednesday, he addressed CEOs. He stopped by a middle-class family's Virginia home on Thursday.
OBAMA: This is a solvable problem.
SHAPIRO: At every stop, his message was the same: focused, repetitive and relentless.
JEFF SHESOL: What we're seeing right now is an impressive degree of message discipline, which we have not always seen from this White House.
SHAPIRO: Jeff Shesol was a speechwriter in the Clinton White House.
SHESOL: I think with each of these appearances, President Obama is reminding the Republican leadership that the country is with him on this question and that it's not just what they might call Obama voters who are with him, but that actually a large majority is with him on the question of whether wealthy people ought to pay a little bit more in taxes.
SHAPIRO: The public drumbeat drove Republicans crazy. And last Friday, for the first time in days, President Obama stayed out of sight. House Speaker John Boehner took his turn at the megaphone, speaking to reporters at the Capitol about the fiscal cliff.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: This isn't a progress report because there's no progress to report.
SHAPIRO: And so, on Sunday, Boehner and the president met for private talks at the White House, their first such meeting in months. And it seemed like a sign that the White House has shifted from an outside game to an inside one. On Air Force One Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney was completely tight-lipped.
JAY CARNEY: We believe that it's in the best interests of the prospects of getting an agreement to not read out the details of conversations that the president has with the speaker or other conversations that, you know, hopefully will make it possible to get an agreement.
SHAPIRO: That flight took the president to an event in Michigan where his focus was on manufacturing rather than the fiscal cliff. And now, the president's schedule is almost totally dark. He had no public events yesterday, none today, and none announced for tomorrow. Instead, he's been having daily conversations back and forth with Speaker Boehner. That doesn't mean his message machine has shut down for the holidays.
Monday, an Obama campaign official emailed supporters asking them to call Republican congressional offices and keep the pressure on. And yesterday, the White House sent a link to this video asking people to tell their stories.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm so happy that my voice was heard and that the president wants to come and talk to middle-class people like me.
MARY KATE CARY: Negotiations are all about leverage. And I think what the president's trying to do is build leverage through the polls.
SHAPIRO: Mary Kate Cary was a speechwriter for the first President Bush. She says for these negotiators, the specifics of the deal are more important than any PR effort.
CARY: It's come down to just John Boehner and just the president. So I'm not sure how effective having a grassroots campaign of everybody calling their representatives is if it's down to just the two of them.
SHAPIRO: At the White House yesterday, spokesman Jay Carney insisted that this is an all-of-the-above communications strategy.
CARNEY: You can be sure that the approach that we're taking, which includes engaging with leaders on Capitol Hill and includes engaging with the broader public, will continue.
SHAPIRO: This approach has short-term goals. Obviously, President Obama wants a deal in the next few weeks. But there are also long-term goals. The two sides don't get to walk away when this conflict is over. There are many partisan fights ahead. And the rhythms that these two sides find in these first post-election weeks may lay the groundwork for many fights to come. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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