Clinton Gets Comfortable At White House Podium
GUY RAZ, host:
President Obama's campaign to convince wavering Democrats to back his tax plan took an aggressive turn today. The president brought in a Democratic superstar to his aid - one of his predecessors, Bill Clinton.
The two men met at the White House for two hours today. Afterward, the two presidents came to the briefing room to speak with the press. It was supposed to last just a few minutes.
President BARACK OBAMA: I'm going to let him speak very briefly, and then I've actually got to go over and do some - just one more Christmas party. So he may decide he wants to take some questions, but I want to make sure that you guys heard from him directly.
Unidentified Man #1: Thank you.
Pres. OBAMA: Thank you.
Former President BILL CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
RAZ: But those remarks were not so brief. After about 10 minutes, President Obama quietly excused himself from the podium. Mr. Clinton carried on for another 20 minutes.
NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea was watching it all. And Don, have you ever seen anything quite like it - a sitting president standing on the sidelines for 10 minutes while his predecessor waxes on?
DON GONYEA: I've never seen anything even remotely like this. There have been occasions when the sitting president and the former president - or maybe two former presidents - walk into the room - even walk into the room...
GONYEA: ...on short notice, but I have never seen one essentially turn the podium over to the other and say: Have at it; my wife is waiting for me...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GONYEA: ...we have a Christmas party to go to.
RAZ: That's exactly what he said...
RAZ: ...after about 10 minutes. Let's hear President Obama.
Pres. OBAMA: Here's what I'll say - is, I've been keeping the first lady waiting for about half an hour. So I'm going to take off. But...
Mr. CLINTON: Well, I don't want to make her mad. Please go.
Pres. OBAMA: ...you're in good hands.
RAZ: So President Obama leaves the podium. Bill Clinton carries on for 20 more minutes. Don, ostensibly, Bill Clinton was there to send a message to Democrats, I gather.
GONYEA: Absolutely. And his message was, there was not a better deal out there to be had - that this is a compromise, that you always have to eat something when you compromise. So the president got as good a deal as he could have gotten with the Republicans. But there's something else. They had met for...
RAZ: Two hours.
GONYEA: ...two hours in the Oval Office, a lengthy meeting. While that meeting was going on, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, the very liberal independent from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders, was probably four, five hours into a filibuster of...
GONYEA: ...this very tax deal. Now, he's an independent, but he caucuses with the Democrats. The whole world was watching Bernie Sanders today. At the moment Bill Clinton stepped up to the podium, the cameras shifted from the Senate floor to the White House.
RAZ: So Bill Clinton stole his thunder?
RAZ: It wasn't just the taxes that Mr. Clinton mentioned. He went on to talk about Haiti. He talked about health care, even talked about the government shutdown of 1995. Let's listen.
Mr. CLINTON: The storyline is how well we worked with the Republicans and all that but, you know, we played political kabuki for a year; had two government shutdowns. We can't afford that now.
RAZ: Hey, Don, what does this say about President Obama's overall position now that he essentially handed over the podium to his predecessor to make the case on his behalf? I mean, President Obama told NPR that he's confident he can get this tax package through Congress. I wonder if he is really that confident.
GONYEA: I think it says he's strong enough to turn the podium - to turn the microphone over to Bill Clinton like that. The other thing is how many people have said that the way forward for President Obama now is the path that Bill Clinton took in 1994. That was all unspoken verbally, but it was all over the place.
RAZ: And that was the clincher.
RAZ: That's NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, thanks.
GONYEA: Thank you.
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