Washington Unplugged: Reporter Roundtable

(CBS)
Did Senator Judd Gregg, R-N.H., "flake out," or did the Obama administration err by choosing him as Commerce Secretary?

That's the question "Washington Unplugged" guest moderator John Dickerson of Slate asked at the top of his roundtable discussion with Politico's Eamon Javers and CBS News' Political Director Steve Chaggaris.

"I think he had a change of heart," Chaggaris answered.

Gregg said he'd "thought about it over the last 10 days and realized, I can't work with these guys. I don't agree with them about a lot of this stuff, especially on the stimulus."

Politico's Javers cut the former Commerce Secretary appointee little slack.

"Whether Gregg had good intentions or not, this was a real political slap in the face to Barack Obama," he said. "He went after this job. He was in meetings with the White House and then he turned around and said no in sort of the harshest way you can and still remain a statesman on Capitol Hill."

The Obama administration, Javers argued, "needs to look deep inside their own team and figure out why is this continuing to happen."

"They are making a lot of rookie mistakes here and they need to get this back on track," he said.

Dickerson made the comparison to former Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, who in the early days of the Bush adminstration, "left the Republican party, became an independent, threw the Bush administration in turmoil. He became a symbol for this my way or the highway."

He then asked the roundtable, "does Gregg become a symbol for the limitations of bipartisanship?"

"That combined to what happened with the stimulus and that President Obama tried really hard to get Republicans to join up with him on the stimulus and basically got no support," Chaggaris said. "So I think combining those two I think they realize maybe this is more trouble than its worth."

Chaggaris said that while the president will not likely say, "who needs the Republicans?" such notions may be "creeping into their thinking a little bit."

Dickerson then turned to the ambitious efforts of the Obama administration to sell the stimulus this week. It "absolutely" worked for them, Javers said.

"Air Force One is a huge symbol and that rally in Florida this week was almost like a religious revival meeting. I mean the intensity of emotion for Barack Obama was really extreme and that's the asset he's got as president That is the bully pulpit," Javers said, noting that "inside the beltway" the Obama administration might need to "drop back a little on the idea of bi-partisanship."

Chaggaris said that Republicans know the stimulus bill will give them a strong platform heading into the 2010 midterm elections if it fails.

"If this stimulus bill does not work the Republicans are saying we are going to be in good shape in 2010 because we can say that Congressional Democrats really muffed this," he said. "It is almost a desperation attempt on their part."

Asked how the president may behave differently in the next round, Politico's Javers said the "inside game" involves the president figuring out why his team is missing signals about problems.

"The outside game," Javers said is, "they are going to step on the gas and they are just going to go for it. They are going to continue on their agenda and if the Republicans aren't going to cooperate they are going to leave them to the side."

Below, watch the roundtable on this week's episode of "Washington Unplugged." The 15-minute episode also includes an interview with Bill Burton, an update on the plane crash in Buffalo, and an interview with author Thomas Ricks, author of "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq 2006-2008."

  • Michelle Levi

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