In a new book, the Washington Post's scoop machine reveals what went on behind closed doors during the tense negotiations over the debt ceiling
Legendary journalist Bob Woodward is out with yet another insider account of the secret workings of Washington. This time, the Pulitzer winner has spoken with everyone from President Obama to House Speaker John Boehner to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the wrangling last summer over how to reduce the nation's ballooning debt and raise the federal debt ceiling. The book, The Price of Politics, isn't due out until Sept. 11, but already, some of the juicy details from the longtime Washington Post writer's 17th book are leaking out. Here, four of the hottest revelations so far:
1. Harry Reid asked Obama to leave the room
In July 2011, Congress was deadlocked, with Republicans refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling without huge spending cuts. With the government quickly running short on cash to pay its bills, a potentially calamitous default was looming, threatening to shatter financial markets, and the recovery. Obama convened a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House. "According to Woodward, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) pointedly told the president that the lawmakers were working on a plan and wouldn't negotiate with him," says Steve Luxenberg at The Washington Post. Obama said he wouldn't be excluded, saying, "I've got to sign this bill." Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) asked a fuming Obama to step out of the meeting so House and Senate leaders could speak privately. "This was it," Woodward writes. "Congress was taking over."
2. Obama "chomped on Nicorette" in meetings with Boehner
In addition to those larger meetings, Obama and Boehner met secretly at the White House, says Miranda Green at The Daily Beast. And despite their differences, the two "are golf buddies and got along well." Really, "all you need to know about the differences between the president and myself," Boehner told Woodward, "is that I'm sitting there smoking a cigarette, drinking merlot, and I look across the table and here is the president of the United States drinking iced tea and chomping on Nicorette," a nicotine-laced gum for smokers trying to quit.
3. After Boehner bailed, Obama erupted in "pure fury"
At one point, "with an agreement tantalizingly close," Obama pushed Boehner for additional taxes, says Rick Klein at ABC News. Boehner, who thought he had already made enough concessions, waited nearly a whole day to call back. When he did, he scrapped the deal, and, Woodward says, Obama erupted in an uncharacteristic "flash of pure fury." "He was spewing coals," Boehner told Woodward. "He was pissed. He wasn't going to get a damn dime more out of me. He knew how far out on a limb I was. But he was hot." Boehner knew then there would be no deal. Obama conceded that he was "pretty angry," as he thought Boehner was "profoundly irresponsible" not to call him back right away at such a critical juncture.
4. Biden is the "McConnell whisperer"
Republicans were being stubborn, says Green at The Daily Beast, and the only one on Obama's side who seemed able to get through to them was Vice President Joe Biden. Indeed, Woodward writes, it was former Sen. Biden's back-channel relationship with GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that ultimately proved critical to the deal that got the debt ceiling raised and prevented default. White House aides now call Biden the "McConnell whisperer."
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