President Obama just spoke before the House Republican caucus and then took questions from members – live. It was amazing television – watchable, interesting, feisty and even a little dramatic. I was reminded of the campaign when, in a single speech in Philadelphia, Obama neutralized the Jeremiah Wright issue that could have sunk his candidacy. The environment and subject matter are obviously completely different now, but Obama proved again that he performs best when he’s up against the wall. Today, at the caucus meeting, he went right after Republicans on their turf and, in my opinion, owned them.
Obama looked so compelling answering Republican questions and accusations that, as the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder quipped on Twitter, “How effective is this for POTUS: Fox News Channel just cut away from it.” Obama called out Republicans for framing the Democratic health care proposal as a “Bolshevik plot.” (Regardless of where you stand on the merits of the policies contained in the plan, these kinds of disingenuous characterizations happened frequently over the past year and it was disappointing for almost everyone.) There were other odd moments that made for great TV. A Republican House freshman stood up and seemed to say that Obama failed to inspire him by doing things like prohibiting all earmarks and broadcasting ALL the health care talks on C-SPAN. Now, lots of Republicans have seen the political advantage in blasting Obama for a lack of transparency in the health care negotiations, but this freshman’s disappointment seemed palpable. Obama responded by saying that House leadership hasn’t left individuals members any room to work with the President; the leadership was sitting right next to Obama as he said this.
Later, a House Republican from Illinois, Peter Roskam, bemoaned that he missed his old pal Barack Obama, the state senator, who he had known years ago and who was always eager for a good, fair debate. Roskam said he was seeing shades of the old Obama right in front of his eyes today and he seemed heartened. But mostly, Obama stood up for his policies and nailed the Republicans for some of their hollow rhetoric. At one point, when Republican Mike Pence said they were running over time, Obama shot back, “No, I’m havin’ fun.” He was. Frankly, it’s hard in a blog post to do justice to the scene. You really must watch it for yourself. Here’s the live feed, but once the whole thing gets posted on C-SPAN, it’s worth your time.
Here’s a sampling of the buzz on Twitter during and right after the session:
marcambinder: Obama looked like a law prof; the GOPers looked like students challenging him.
maddow: This appearance by Obama with House Republicans is really remarkable.
ThePlumLineGS: Imagine if Obama publicly pushed Congressional Dem leaders to pass HCR via reconciliation as aggressively as he’s now pushing Republicans.
ezraklein: Obama’s Q&A with the House Republicans is the most compelling political television I’ve seen…maybe ever.
chucktodd: the president should hold Congressional “town halls” more often. Public needs to see this if they’ll ever trust washington again
And finally, my colleague Karen Tumulty:
ktumulty: Dear Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner: More of these, please.