The Party of No: New Details on the GOP Plot to Obstruct Obama

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House Majority Leader and House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Eric Cantor answers questions from reporters after speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event entitled Controlling Costs: The Price of Good Health July 12, 2011 in Washington, DC.

TIME just published “The Party of No,” an article adapted from my new book, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. It reveals some of my reporting on the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) in which they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular President-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.” The excerpt includes a special bonus nugget of Mitt Romney dissing the Tea Party.

But as we say in the sales world: There’s more! I’m going to be blogging some of the news and larger themes from the book here at TIME.com, and I’ll kick it off with more scenes from the early days of the Republican strategy of No. Read on to hear what Joe Biden’s sources in the Senate GOP were telling him, some candid pillow talk between a Republican staffer and an Obama aide, and a top Republican admitting his party didn’t want to “play.” I’ll start with a scene I consider a turning point in the Obama era, when the new President went to the Hill to extend his hand and the GOP spurned it.

On Jan. 27, 2009, House Republican leader John Boehner opened his weekly conference meeting with an announcement: Obama would make his first visit to the Capitol around noon, to meet exclusively with Republicans about his economic-recovery plan. “We’re looking forward to the President’s visit,” Boehner said.

The niceties ended there, as Boehner turned to the $815 billion stimulus bill that House Democrats had just unveiled. Boehner complained that it would spend too much, too late, on too many Democratic goodies. He urged his members to trash it on cable, on YouTube, on the House floor: “It’s another run-of-the-mill, undisciplined, cumbersome, wasteful Washington spending bill … I hope everyone here will join me in voting no!

Cantor’s whip staff had been planning a “walk-back” strategy in which they would start leaking that 50 Republicans might vote yes, then that they were down to 30 problem children, then that they might lose 20 or so. The idea was to convey momentum. “You want the members to feel like, Oh, the herd is moving. I’ve got to move with the herd,” explains Rob Collins, Cantor’s chief of staff at the time. That way, even if a dozen Republicans ultimately defected, it would look as if Obama failed to meet expectations.

But when he addressed the conference, Cantor adopted a different strategy. “We’re not going to lose any Republicans,” he declared. His staff was stunned.

“We’re like, Uhhhhh, we have to recalibrate,” Collins recalls.

Afterward, Cantor’s aides asked if he was sure he wanted to go that far out on a limb. Zero was a low number. Centrists and big-spending appropriators from Obama-friendly districts would be sorely tempted to break ranks. If Cantor promised unanimity and failed to deliver, the press would have the story it craved: Republicans divided, dysfunction junction, still clueless after two straight spankings.

But Cantor said yes, he meant zero. He was afraid that if the Democrats managed to pick off two or three Republicans, they’d be able to slap a “bipartisan” label on the bill. “We can get there,” he said. “If we don’t get there, we can try like hell to get there.”

Shortly before 11 a.m., the AP reported that Boehner had urged Republicans to oppose the stimulus. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs handed Obama a copy of the story in the Oval Office, just before he left for the Hill to make his case for the stimulus, an unprecedented visit to the opposition after just a week in office. “You know, we still thought this was on the level,” Gibbs says. Obama political aide David Axelrod says that after the President left, White House aides were buzzing about the insult. And they didn’t even know that Cantor had vowed to whip a unanimous vote — which, ultimately, he did.

“It was stunning that we’d set this up and, before hearing from the President, they’d say they were going to oppose this,” Axelrod says. “Our feeling was, we were dealing with a potential disaster of epic proportions that demanded cooperation. If anything was a signal of what the next two years would be like, it was that.”

But that wasn’t the only signal. A few other examples:

• Vice President Biden told me that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any bipartisan cooperation on major votes. “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators who said, ‘Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,’ ” he recalled. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance. “The way it was characterized to me was, ‘For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back,’ ” Biden said. The Vice President said he hasn’t even told Obama who his sources were, but Bob Bennett of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania both confirmed they had conversations with Biden along those lines.

“So I promise you — and the President agreed with me — I never thought we were going to get Republican support,” Biden said.

• One Obama aide said he received a similar warning from a Republican Senate staffer he was seeing at the time. He remembered asking her one morning in bed, How do we get a stimulus deal? She replied, Baby, there’s no deal!

“This is how we get whole,” she said with a laugh. “We’re going to do to you what you did to us in 2006.”

• David Obey, then chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, met with his GOP counterpart, Jerry Lewis, to explain what Democrats had in mind for the stimulus and ask what Republicans wanted to include. “Jerry’s response was, ‘I’m sorry, but leadership tells us we can’t play,’ ” Obey told me. “Exact quote: ‘We can’t play.’ What they said right from the get-go was, It doesn’t matter what the hell you do, we ain’t going to help you. We’re going to stand on the sidelines and bitch.”

Lewis blames Obey and the Democrats for the committee’s turn toward extreme partisanship, but he doesn’t deny that GOP leaders made a decision not to play. “The leadership decided there was no play to be had,” he says. Republicans recognized that after Obama’s big promises about bipartisanship, they could break those promises by refusing to cooperate. In the words of Congressman Tom Cole, a deputy Republican whip: “We wanted the talking point: ‘The only thing bipartisan was the opposition.’ ”

Read more in this week’s issue of TIME or pick up a copy of The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.

67 comments
CynthiaHoldcraft
CynthiaHoldcraft

I think we just need to throw them all out and start fresh with a new slate that will actually work for the good of the country and NOT just their political party!

DanielTadesse
DanielTadesse

Good! that is why we are where we are know. People said yes to Obama and pulled the rug under the republicans.

RudyTejano
RudyTejano

The Republican party of Lincoln has morphed into the TEA party of today! Today's TEA party wants to privatize Social Security! The Republican party of Lincoln turned into the Southern Democrats and KKK of old! Boehner said there was no difference! Today's TEA party limits voter access at the local or state level! Today's TEA party limits women's medical decisions at the local or state level! Today's TEA party limits infrastructure repairs at the federal/national level! Today's TEA party wants to eliminate public funding of schools! Today's TEA party wants to eliminate Medicare and Medicaid! And they want to eliminate Obamacare! Today's TEA party limits budgetary financing at the federal/national level! Today's TEA party interfere's with Social Security at the federal/national level! Today's TEA party wants to send troops into battle while limiting access to medical care after they return from the war zone! Today's TEA party still supports the old Confederate flag, the symbol of bigotry and hatred!

DanielGuillot
DanielGuillot

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President

Obama to be a one-term president.­” ~Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority
Leader, (R-Ky.), October 2010,, NOT GOVERNING,,OR JOBS,, OR THE ECONOMY ,,,
  McConnell vows obstructionism will continue into Obama´s 2nd term. He has filibustered everything.His directive to all GOP senators is to block every initiative regardless of merit. What bills has the GOP filibustered?
H.R. 12 - Paycheck Fairness Act
H.R. 448 -- Elder Abuse Victims Act
H.R. 466 - Wounded Veteran Job Security Act
H.R. 515 - Radioactive Import Deterrence Act
H.R. 549 -- National Bombing Prevention Act
H.R. 577 - Vision Care for Kids Act
H.R. 626 - Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act
H.R. 1029 - Alien Smuggling and Terrorism Prevention Act
H.R. 1168 -- Veterans Retraining Act
H.R. 1171 - Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization
H.R. 1293 -- Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act
H.R. 1429 -- Stop AIDS in Prison Act
H.R.5281 -- DREAM Act
S.3985 -- Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act
S.3816 -- Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act
S.3369 -- A bill to provide for additional disclosure requirements for corporations, labor organizations, Super PACs and other entities
S.2237 -- Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act
S.2343 -- Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act
S.1660 -- American Jobs Act of 2011
S.3457 -- Veterans Jobs Corps Act
and  we can now add sequestion and gun issues along with a SHUTDOWN and the countries downgrade in credit

as we all already know the Republicans will GUT THEM until they are ineffective and then complain that they are ineffective

RichardFlynn
RichardFlynn

@DanielGuillot  What kind of hatred could make people ignore facts like this? It must be hate because no one could be that stupid. Could they?

JoAnneSimson
JoAnneSimson

This is SO pathetic, but I knew it was happening from about a month or two after Obama took office. The two-party system should go down in infamy. We need at least one other functional political party, and then folks would be forced to cooperate.

NickMeinzer
NickMeinzer

annnd there surely will be no investigation and people removed from office for obstructing democracy...

GeneTenery
GeneTenery

The GO/Tea would rather the Country go down in "flames" rather than give Obama (Black Man in the White House) any help!  We all knew it ... now the info comes out of the mouths of the Traitors of the American People!  Discusting! 

KateMoore
KateMoore

I do not understand why some of these guys are not prosecuted for seditio.

JCarra
JCarra

@KateMoore They know too much. Too many skeletons. One such prosecution would lead to another, and then the whole edifice falls.

JCarra
JCarra

The permanent modifier to "Republican" should be "dirtbag."

RalphGardner
RalphGardner

Bill Griffin...whatever the Dems did in 2006 was somewhat of a reaction to the 12 years of Repub reign during the Newt years and obvious corruption with the 2 wars lingering. The Repubs had the opportunity to show up and help the recovery but were literally treasonous in their actions against the President and ultimately against the country; they failed in the office in which they were charged with more than any other previous Senate/Congress. 

BillGriffin
BillGriffin

“This is how we get whole,” she said with a laugh. “We’re going to do to you what you did to us in 2006.”

Care to explain that comment? Did the Democrats, in fact, employ the same strategy against Bush? If so, why the complaining about having it done back to them in return? Too often one side or the other does something detrimental to the other party, not considering that when the other party has the opportunity, the favor will be returned. 

JohnLentini
JohnLentini

@BillGriffin  2006 was six years into the Bush presidency.  2008 was before the Obama presidency even started.  This is a false equivalence.

Cheyenne743
Cheyenne743

This was all part of the republican strategy to make Obama a one-term president, and we know how well that worked out.

LocksleyHall
LocksleyHall

Losing your minds much? The Democrats had absolute majorities in both houses and a president newly (and smashingly) elected. The GOP had just been annihilated in both houses, the Senate and the Presidency. The Democrats could (and were planning to) put together legislation significantly to the left of anything that the GOP could have reasonably supported, and the feeling in the GOP leadership was that since the majority could do exactly what they wanted, then the Democrats ought to own it. Lock, stock, and barrel. Cynical? Perhaps. But that, more than anything, put the mid-terms within GOP reach. The Democrats put together two years of left wing governance, then lost seats in the Senate and resoundingly lost the House.


So, tell me. In an instance when any "compromise" would be essentially the same thing as letting the other side do exactly what it wanted because they HAD the votes and didn't NEED the GOP (or look for any votes in the House), what the hell would be the point of cooperation? As the president pointed out several times...he won. His way or the highway. So. Fine. His way. And the credit was his (if there had been any), but the blame was also his...and his party's...which is how it worked out. 


Be honest. None of you people screaming "treason" would give the slightest damn how the Republicans voted if the House and Senate had remained in Democratic control. Because it didn't, because the voters repudiated Congress and the GOP refused to provide cover, THAT'S what pisses you off. 


Now THAT'S cynical, right there. And shameful as hell. Your team sowed the wind; then they reaped the whirlwind.  Own it.

DaveSNJ
DaveSNJ

@RalphGardner @LocksleyHall   I remember that the DEMS were able to pass the debacle (you'll know what's in it after it's passed) called ObamaCare.     


Incidentally, are you surprised that the opposition party would actually oppose the ruling party? 

nerdonword
nerdonword

@LocksleyHall  No, what pisses people off is that GOP congressmen aren't doing their jobs. Hence the 90% disapproval rating of the Republican controlled Congress.

But to respond to some of your other remarks: The legislation pushed through by the Democratic super majority was rather tame as related to what it could have been. If Obama wanted a one-payer solution to the health care system, he could have gotten it. If he wanted to dramatically re-shape our environmental regulations to address climate change, he could have gotten it. If he wanted to radically expand our social safety net in terms of food stamps, housing assistance, etc, etc, he could have gotten it. Democrats really could have pushed through any left of center agenda. Instead they attempted to extend the olive branch with compromise legislation such as Romney-care, err, Obamacare. The ACA was modeled after legislation that Republicans had supported as an alternative to a one-payer solution in the 90's, as well as the health care system Romney modeled in his time as Massachussetts governor.

The end point analysis here is that the Republican party has swung radically rightward (read: extremism), and they have justly earned the label "The Party of No." They are so disinterested in governing, or moderate solutions, that they were willing to tank the economy (on several occasions) just to spite Obama. So... to whatever point you think you are making re: this, I am here to disagree (read: point out the facts).


CynthiaHoldcraft
CynthiaHoldcraft

Why does there have to be a ruling party and an opposing party? Shouldn't our government be based on a spirit of cooperation rather than being adversarial. Don't get me wrong...I know it's not all picnics and fun runs running a government and a good debate is necessary to the decision making process. But deliberately blocking the process is just harming the American people and that's unforgivable of these people who were placed in office to represent the PEOPLE not the PARTY!

AmandaWard
AmandaWard

The result is not the issue at hand right now. The plan and the actual admissions are.

AmandaWard
AmandaWard

Yes. Nice segue. But your tangential discussion of results doesn't change the plan, the actual admissions which are the focus of the article.

tshire
tshire

Actually, as Ralph Gardner so ably pointed out in his comment, Obama couldn't get whatever he wanted due to the fact that Democrats only had a 60-vote supermajority for a matter of weeks, and Republicans used the filibuster to oppose anything and everything. Also, conservative Democrats weren't about to go along with a truly progressive agenda. Just one defection is all it would take to bring things to a screeching halt.

But you are absolutely correct about the Republican Party's radical shift rightward and collective decision to spurn Obama's attempts at dialogue and negotiation. It is disheartening to see what has become of the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. The Republican base now primarily consists of anti-government, anti-tax, anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-union haters that they are blind to the fact that they are acting as foot soldiers for powerful corporate interests.

RalphGardner
RalphGardner

@LocksleyHall Here we go with that "absolute majorities" crap. To have that Al Franken had to finish his runoff with (whoever) and the majority didn't come into being until late August and ended by end of September. Franken was sworn in August 7, but Ted Kennedy due to illness couldn't vote (missed 261 times out of 270 votes) as he stopped by March and the interim successor was named on Sept 24th was the FIRST time the Dems had 60 votes. Robert Byrd from West Virginia was in frail health.  During the last 6 months of 2009, Byrd missed 128 of a possible 183 votes in the Senate.  Byrd passed away on June 28, 2010 at the age of 92. 


During those four months and one week, Congress was in session for a total of 72 days.  So for 72 days the Democrats held a 60 seat, filibuster-proof supermajority in the United States Senate. Even in this window Obama’s ‘control’ of the Senate was incomplete and highly adulterated due to the balkiness of the so-called Blue Dog conservative and moderate Democratic Senators such as Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. The claim that Obama ruled like a monarch over Congress for two years — endlessly intoned as a talking point by Republicans — is more than just a misremembering of recent history or excited overstatement. It’s a lie.


Nice try there Locksley. Yes, the Dems lost badly in 2010, largely do to the treasonous actions of your Repub friends in the Congress and Senate. The voters repudiated because they BELIEVED the BS, but it will come back on them. The Dems are catching up given the current strategies employed to rally their base which includes movements to right the "gerrymandering" BS that's been the worst ever witnessed. Just watch 2016 and 2018 and you'll see what I mean...your boys, far more than the Dems, will pay dearly for their liaisons with people like the Koch brothers...


So, you see, facts do help to clarify what the reality actually was, not your BS talking point crap...

CynthiaHoldcraft
CynthiaHoldcraft

Filibuster -- a device used to rook the American people out of the representation that this government was designed to provide. When are politicians going to start representing the people again?

SharonCooper
SharonCooper

The Republicans love the Republicans, and that's all they love.

GarionGabeHines
GarionGabeHines

And the Republicans, say they love this country called The United States of AMERICA.I'd love to see what they would do if they hated this country called The United States of AMERICA.ijs

awestby
awestby

It's been out there for all to see all along. The republicans can spin and deny all they want but actions, not words, are what ultimately tell the truth. And the rest of us pay.

jackresiak
jackresiak

So Grunwald wrote this article to promote an article in Time that promotes his book, which is all about his own reporting.  If you doubt this guy's importance, just ask him.


DonaldDietz
DonaldDietz

Yeah but you righties piss all over yourself for the author of the book about Hillary with no facts just I'm an investigative reporter it's not my job to show facts just do a story that might be true.

CarmineBracale
CarmineBracale

The Republicans were scared out of the wits that a BLACK man as intelligent as Barack Obama  would make them look like the brain dead bigots and racists they really were. And we are finding out every day they were right. He makes them all look like illiterate fools without even breaking a sweat.  Bravo President Obama.  A President for ALL the people, not just for the rich Republicans and their cronies!!!!

DianeMM
DianeMM

@CarmineBracale Republicans hated Democrats long before a "BLACK" man was elected President. Just for once, can we ignore Obama's race and see this as the cynical partisan strategy it was?

DonaldDietz
DonaldDietz

Are you nuts, the party of no has never acted this way with a white president you are either in denial or just plain nuts to think that Obamas race didn't play a part in these mostly southern rich white men's plans to make Obama a one term president.

GSFoley
GSFoley

Their TRAITOROUS behavior should be rewarded by kicking all of them out and getting back every penny they have been paid since 2008, and giving that money to the people on food stamps, homeless who are living on the streets, and move them into homes, and pay for the ACA for any Democrat who can't afford the ACA. 


KICK OUT ALL OF THESE OBSTRUCTIONISTS WHO RUINED SO MANY PEOPLES LIVES AND WHO HAVE LET OUR COUNTRY GO DOWN THE TOILET BY NOT FUNDING THE MONEY NECESSARY TO KEEP OUR COUNTRY UP-TO DATE. EXAMPLE; AMTRAK NEEDS FUNDING TO RUN TRAINS WITH NEW SAFETY UPGRADES. IT'S WHAT'S RIGHT FOR THE COUNTRY AND IT'S WHAT'S RIGHT FOR THE PEOPLE OF AMERICA. GOP doesn't care who is injured or killed.


REPUBLICAN'S SHOULD NOT ONLY BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES, BUT SHOULD BE DISGRACED IN PUBLIC, AND MADE TO APOLOGIZE TO THE AMERICAN'S WHOSE LIVES THEY DELIBERATELY RUINED. INSTEAD OF DOING THE WORK THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE ACCOMPLISHING, THEY ACTED LIKE SPOILED BRATTY CHILDREN WITH NO SENSE OF ALLEGIANCE TO THE PRESIDENT, THE COUNTRY OR THE PEOPLE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING FOR.


DESPICABLE, LOUSY, ROTTON CHEATING LIARS DON'T BELONG IN CONGRESS.  MAKE THEM PAY FOR THIS NOW!


LocksleyHall
LocksleyHall

@GSFoley Therapy can help you with this. That, maybe, and drink. 

And could you stop shouting? You make no sense at all.

DaveThewes
DaveThewes

@LocksleyHall @GSFoley  Troll alert ^^ Guy thinks he has a brain ; then gets' shut down immediately by @Ralph Gardner ! ! ! To which , He is silent like a lamb ; FOOL !

EmmaDuncan
EmmaDuncan

@WilliamMulanaxJr. interesting Reagan t-shirt, despite the fact that St.Ronnie, would never allow him anywhere near his house, unless he came to cut the grass.

CarmineBracale
CarmineBracale

@DadAltman @WilliamMulanaxJr.  Right Dad....one more Uncle Tom that loves to kiss Massas ass even as the whip is coming down on his back.  Hasn't a clue about his own people's history.  He's not even a convincing actor.  Whoever paid him lost money!  

LocksleyHall
LocksleyHall

@CarmineBracale Nice to see liberals throwing around Uncle Toms and the like. Surprised you haven't dropped an N-bomb on him, because he thinks for himself, not how you want him to think. I know I cannot speak for the black experience, because I don't share it, but I DO know that there are a whole lot of African Americans out there who do not drink the liberal Kool-Aid. So where the hell do you get off, Sparky, judging him and his view of the world? Presumptuous much?