February 6, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
This isn’t Obama’s White House
Why Republicans no longer get the benefit of the doubt.
In 2011, Barack Obama entered into negotiations with House Republicans. They wanted the president to cut future spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling to borrow more money.
He agreed to $2 trillion in cuts. The debt ceiling was raised, but the damage was done. “The United States experienced its first credit rating downgrade and the stock market plunged,” USA Today said.
Joe Biden, as vice president, learned an important lesson that day. He shared it Wednesday with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the White House: There will be no negotiations over the debt ceiling.
McCarthy has shown his hand. To Margaret Brennan, host of “Face the Nation,” he said, “we’re not going to default.” What’s he have to bargain with now? I don’t know. But the moment seems to illustrate a new and newly emerging pattern of behavior coming out of the White House.
There will be no benefit of the doubt.
A problem for the Republicans
According to Alexander Nazaryan and Michael Isikoff, the White House is prepared to work with House investigations but there’s a but.
“When it comes to Congress, we intend to review and respond to oversight inquiries in good faith,” communications officer Ian Sams said last month. “We’re going to call it out when we see rampant hypocrisy.”
Sams said the Republicans have a “total lack of credibility.”
He’s not wrong.
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan is the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee. A “ferocious Trump defender,” he said he’d turn to a “compulsory process” if the White House refused to be forthcoming.
This is the same congressman who balked when the J6 committee subpoenaed him for testimony on his role in Donald Trump’s coup.
Sams went on.
He said Kentucky Congressman James Comer, head of the House Oversight Committee, is playing “political theater.” When a Democrat is involved with documents, he’s very concerned. When Trump was involved, he’s la-di-da. Via Nazaryan and Michael Isikoff, he said:
Comer had downplayed Trump’s mishandling of sensitive documents after arguing in an interview with Newsmax last August that the matter “didn’t amount to a hill of beans” and would not “be a priority” in terms of an investigation.
This is not Barack Obama’s White House.
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The average white American didn’t give the first Black president the benefit of the doubt on account of his being the first Black president.
Joe Biden doesn’t carry that burden. He gets the benefit of the doubt automatically. He seems to believe he owes none to the Republicans.
That’s a problem.
For the Republicans.
Blunting their attacks
What is “the benefit of the doubt”? Why is it important?
Merriam-Webster’s: it’s “the state of accepting something or someone as honest or deserving of trust even though there are doubts.”
It’s important because virtually everything the House Republicans hope to accomplish with their phony investigations, of the Biden administration and the Biden family, depends on the president trusting them just enough for the Republicans to turn that trust against him.
Obama gave them the benefit of the doubt. They dragged out the process so long global investors panicked. Obama lost once after conceding $2 trillion in cuts. He lost twice after markets plunged. In the end, he was complicit in the GOP’s sabotage of his administration.
But because he was the first Black president, and his party had experienced a “shellacking” in the 2010 midterms, he had to play along.
Things are different now.
The president is white. The House GOP is barely a majority. The benefit of the doubt of the average white American is not on their side.
They plan all kinds of investigations – of the 2020 election, Biden’s return of classified documents and Hunter Biden’s laptop.
What they are actually doing is searching for reasonsreasons that would appear to prove their allegations. They want to credibly accuse the president of something. But doing that requires Biden’s help.
That’s why Sams leaned into their “total lack of credibility.”
By refusing to give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt, the White House is depriving them of that appearance, blunting their attacks.
This isn’t Barack Obama’s White House
McCarthy tried to make Biden seem hypocritical. “He literally led the talks in 2011 and he praised having those talks,” he told CBS’s Margaret Brennan. “This is what he’s always done in the past.”
The House Republicans don’t know what they want, however, and the White House knows they don’t know what they want.
They keep asking for spending cuts, but won’t say which programs to cut. The reason is pretty clear. If they say what they want to cut – Social Security and Medicare, for instance, which are broadly popular – it will undermine their demand for spending cuts.
The Biden administration believes it has the advantage. In a memo to McCarthy, it asked McCarthy to “commit to the bedrock principle that the United States will never default on its obligations” and “when the Speaker and the House Republicans will release their budget.”
He won’t and they won’t, because he can’t and they can’t.
“The Biden administration believes Americans will view the Republican brinkmanship more unfavorably – as willing to jeopardize the economy and cut popular programs for ideological reasons,” per USA Today.
Biden is probably right.
After all, this isn’t Barack Obama’s White House.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.
Been meaning to subscribe for awhile and I’m so glad I finally did so. Thanks, John, for your thorough and honest analysis.