Against Getting Along

Elspeth Reeve

One of the common criticisms of President Obama is that he's too aloof, too uninterested in making friends, to make the right connections to end partisan gridlock in Washington. Obama's relationship with House Speaker John Boehner looked totally poisoned Wednesday when Boehner said in a speech that Obama wanted to "annihilate" the GOP. We should have all seen this coming. In The Washington Post last summer, Sally Quinn mourned the end of the traditional Washington social scene, lamenting that Obama's aloofness might not cost him the election: "The Obamas have been roundly criticized for not being part of the Washington social scene. The question is, does it matter? Could Obama win or lose the presidency because he has dissed the Washington community? I suspect the answer is no. It doesn’t matter anymore."

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Quinn can stop feeling so sad, because it apparently does matter. On Thursday, we see that in the Senate, longtime Washington hands cooperating. Sadly, they are cooperating to create more gridlock. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are reaching a deal on filibuster reform, and no one expects it to make the Senate a more productive place. Chumminess isn't working, either.

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It's tough to see this the bipartisan deal to preserve Senate gridlock as the flip side of the coin to all those Obama-doesn't-socialize-like-Bill-Clinton-did stories. (Of course, Bill Clinton was criticized, too, for not socializing with social D.C. back when he was president, too.) Investors Business Daily complained in December 2011. A recent piece of DC gossip revealed Obama hasn't even had the Clintons over for dinner! Rep. Dennis Cardoza's wrote the Fresno Bee saying a "former Obama staffer confided to me that it was clear to him that the president didn't mind giving speeches (lectures), but really avoided personal contact with members of Congress and folks outside the Beltway."  Budget negotiations between Obama and Boehner failed because "the president failed to connect with Boehner," National Journal's Ron Fournier reported earlier this month. Boehner found Obama to be a bad conversationalist, "boring and insulting." Bob Woodward's latest book, The Price of Politics, says debt limit talks broke down in 2011 in part because the White House did not cultivate strong relationships on Capitol Hill.

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This is what bipartisan comity gets you, at least on Thursday. Reid and McConnell have come together and found common ground: they both think a little gridlock can be a good thing. McConnell and Reid want to preserve minority rule in the Senate, which helps McConnell now and would help Reid if/when the chamber flips and Republicans win the majority.