Debating Obama's Plea for Civility in D.C.

On "Face the Nation," Jan. 31, 2010 (clockwise): Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich.; Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa.; and Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss. CBS

Republican Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi agreed with President Obama's point to the Republican caucus Friday that members of both parties ought to work through their disagreements with civility, yet he was quick to blame Mr. Obama and his administration for being the first to shed civility.

Barbour was referring to the Democratic President's visit to the Republican Winter retreat Friday, where he said, "We have to be careful about what we say about each other sometimes because it boxes us in in ways that makes it difficult for us to work together, because our constituents start believing us. They don't know sometimes this is just politics with you guys, you know, or folks on my side do sometimes. So just a tone of civility instead of slash-and-burn would be helpful."

"It is often the president who is the person that says the people on the other side are bad, anybody who is not for what I'm for, they've got bad motives, they're representing bad people," Barbour said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "The truth is, this is about policy, and the American people and the Republicans think most of the [policies] that the Obama administration, the Democrat majority, have pushed are way too far to the left and are bad policy for the country."

Both Barbour and Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania agreed with the president on civilizing the tone of political rhetoric. But Rendell stated that it was more than just tone, arguing that President Bush's domestic initiatives such as tax cuts and No Child Left behind garnered "significant Democratic support in Congress," whereas the new administration has seen "stonewalling by the Republicans."

Senator John Thune, R-S.D., chimed in, telling moderator and Chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer that while he credits President Obama and House Republicans for having the tough conversation, "The question is, will there be meaningful cooperation on an agenda going forward?"

Schieffer asked if the election of Republican Scott Brown, giving the Republicans the ability to filibuster, would make it harder, not easier for both sides to find compromise.

"I think a lot of it has to do, Bob, with what things they [Democrats] put forward," said Thune, who said Republicans were merely reacting to a Democratic agenda he characterized as "way to the left."

Barbour said, "I hope what it means is since the Democrats can't get 60 votes on a partisan basis in the Senate, they will quit trying to ram stuff down the country's throat on a 60-vote partisan vote. I hope that's what it means."

Barbour argued that while Senator-Elect Brown is a Republican, he is a Republican from New England and arguably moderate: "[I]t's a reminder to Republicans that we don't need purity. We need to elect the best people we can elect. Scott Brown is the best Senator for Massachusetts. But you're right, he certainly is not as conservative as I am."

On the heels of the Republican National Committee approving a compromise "Purity Test" for its candidates, Barbour called such diversity "healthy and good."

Rendell said that the House Republican Caucus' response following their meeting with Mr. Obama was discouraging. "After the invitation, after the president laid out these olive branches on nuclear power, off-shore drilling, in 30 minutes the Republicans put out a press release ripping the president.

"That's not the way to get things done."

Finally, Schieffer asked about the growing "Tea Party" conservative protest movement, to which Thune responded, "People in this country are uncomfortable with the borrowing, the spending and the taxing and the growth of government in Washington. And that's being reflected in the Tea Party movement," and in recent Republican victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat from Michigan, disputed the notion of voter anger being vented over budget battles. "There's no doubt that the anger is real and it's white hot," she said. "It's especially hot in places that have a hugely high unemployment rate, but it's hot because of the jobs issue. It's not so much hot because of deficits."

Governor Barbour nonetheless said he saw the Tea Party movement as allies of Republicans. "They remind me of the people in the '90s, Perot people who were disgusted with both parties.

"I see these people as a catalyst for Republicans to get settled where they need to be," Barbour said. "I think we as Republicans need to make sure they understand that we see them as our allies, that they're welcome in our party."
  • Michelle Levi

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