Move over, Richard Nixon – you’ve got company.
Journalist Bob Woodward is going after another sitting US president, but unlike Nixon during the Watergate era, this one isn’t trying to cover up a bungled burglary. Instead, Woodward believes, President Barack Obama has fallen prey to a kind of “madness” during the sequester fight, making military decisions based on budgetary politics in Washington and going back on the deal he proposed to Congress in 2011.
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” on Wednesday described the Woodward-Obama feud as “Ali-Frazier IV,” a particularly telling metaphor since the two legendary heavyweights only fought three times. During that appearance, Woodward went on to criticize Obama for not sending the USS Harry Truman to the Persian Gulf because of budgetary concerns.
And if that wasn’t enough, Woodward told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Wednesday night that a senior White House official informed him that he would “regret” the way he’s criticized Obama during the sequester battle.
“They're not happy at all," Woodward told Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room." Woodward has been vocal in pointing out that the sequester was Obama’s idea, a charge the White House originally denied but has since acknowledged, as CNN reported Wednesday.
"It makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, 'You're going to regret doing something that you believe in,'" Woodward said on CNN.
The bad blood between the president and the veteran scribe had been brewing for some time, but it hit a fever pitch with a Feb. 22 Washington Post column that detailed precisely when Obama OK’d the sequester strategy:
Obama personally approved of the plan for (Jack) Lew and (Rob) Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved.
With the White House unable to wriggle off the hook and point the finger at Republicans in the face of Woodward’s meticulous reporting, Team Obama has resorted to making threats. It seems, well, a little Nixonian. It may help White House personnel feel better to unload on Woodward, but given his track record and history of impact journalism, it could easily prove to be the wrong approach in trying to win the public relations battle.
If the sequester is somehow avoided, the Woodward-Obama spat will go down in history as just another footnote in the Obama presidency.
But if the sequester occurs, Obama will only benefit politically by being able to blame Republicans for spending cuts most Americans oppose. Since most people, sadly, pay more attention to spin than facts, Obama would likely succeed in convincing most voters to believe the GOP was to blame for the cuts in everything from defense to education to airport security. Or at least he would have succeeded, that is, until Woodward sounded off.
By pushing back against Woodward instead of just ignoring the veteran scribe, the White House now finds itself in a situation where more and more Americans are ready to take a second look at just who is to blame for the sequester. As that happens, Obama’s position of strength will begin to diminish.
With sequestration fast approaching, Obama had better hope he can strike some kind of a deal with Congress. Otherwise, it may be another incumbent president – not a reporter – who ends up regretting how he handled a particular situation.
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