MICHELE NORRIS, host:
When President Barack Obama came to office, he promised to work with both Democrats and Republicans in his policy decisions. In the early days of the stimulus debate in January, for example, he met with leaders from both parties in an effort, he said, to hear from everybody.
President BARACK OBAMA: I recognize that we're not going to get a 100 percent in support, but I think everybody there felt good about - that I was willing to explain how we put the package together, how we were thinking about it, and that we continue to welcome some good ideas.
NORRIS: President Obama even appointed Republican Judd Gregg to be commerce secretary, but then Senator Gregg withdrew his name from consideration. The stimulus bill was a party line vote in the House. All House Republicans voted against it. I'm joined now by John Dickerson, Slate Magazine's chief political correspondent. He joins us in our studio to talk about his latest article and the title says it all, "From Detente to Taunts, Obama's promise of post-partisanship is almost completely gone." Welcome to the program, John.
Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Correspondent, Slate Magazine): Thank you for having me.
BLOCK: What do you mean by post-partisanship?
Mr. DICKERSON: Well, this was supposed to be what the Obama administration was going to bring to Washington, which was an end to the left-right bickering. He was going to forge a new path, reach out to both sides and he has tried that. He's done a lot of things, both symbolic and also at times substantive, but in talking to aides recently over the last few weeks, you pick up a much more partisan tone. The president hasn't gone all the way there yet, but internally they basically, in a lot of ways, have written off Republicans.
BLOCK: Now, publicly the president is saying he's still going to reach across the aisle, but you're saying this is over.
Mr. DICKERSON: Well, at least as far as this budget fight is concerned and that - or as it's shaping up. What you hear from the White House is basically people saying, look, the Republicans have not negotiated in good faith. And what they're saying by that is two things. One, our efforts, while they will continue in some measure, just aren't really paying off in terms of getting the other side to reach back across the divide. And secondly, they've noticed something else in the polling, which is that the public in polls are basically blaming Republicans for any partisanship in Washington. The president isn't getting blame and with that maneuvering room in the polls, White House aides feel like they can push a little bit harder on these partisan messages.
BLOCK: And there seems to be a little bit of wiggle room, also, in the public's view of the blame for the current problems in the economy.
Mr. DICKERSON: That's right. There's a Washington Post poll out today in which basically the people give the president a lot of room, and they say the mess was created by other people. It's he's not to blame, but there are some tiny warning signs in that poll today. Independents are slipping a little bit away from him and support for his budget in other polls is slipping a tiny bit.
BLOCK: Did the Republicans, particularly his critics in the House on the stimulus, on the budget, make it easier for them to retreat to partisanship on the budget because they didn't offer their own plan? Is it easier for them to say, you know, we tried to reach out to them, they didn't really put anything on the table, so we're pulling back from the table?
Mr. DICKERSON: Republicans in Congress, in the House have made it easier for the White House in two ways. One, by voting party line completely against the stimulus package. The second is that last week Republicans in the House released a budget that had no numbers in it, and that made them look, even by the view of some Republicans, sort of amateurish and laughable. Republican leaders in the House are coming out with a budget that will have numbers tomorrow and so we'll get a chance to assess that, but it's about a week late.
BLOCK: Could this come back to haunt them?
Mr. DICKERSON: It could come back to haunt the White House, although in the polling there seems to be no real danger. I think what Republicans hope for, I suppose is the way to put it, is that the White House will get complacent and get caught up in its own sense of arrogance. Now, again, that's more of a wish than a piece of political analysis on the part of Republicans.
BLOCK: John you've been covering politics in Washington for a very long time, is bipartisanship almost like the political unicorn - something that people talk about, but is rarely seen in the flesh?
Mr. DICKERSON: I think that's a good description. I think it's, also, there's a very interesting debate that bipartisanship is actually not that useful, that people get elected based on a series of ideas and that only by sort of running with those ideas and making a strong case for them do you really get any big changes done in Washington. So it's both a unicorn and then there's a whole school of people who think it's a unicorn that's not worth finding.
BLOCK: John Dickerson, thanks so much for coming in.
Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.
BLOCK: John Dickerson is Slate Magazine's chief political correspondent.
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