The 2015 Annual Meeting
featured special guest Mark Halperin, managing editor of Bloomberg Politics and co-host of the daily political show With All Due Respect. Halperin spoke about President Obama, the
Republican Congress, and much more, holding participants’ close attention
He was quick to mention upfront that people often “assume that I live in Washington, DC, because I cover politics, but I have lived in New York for a long time. So my goal is always to not only cover what’s going on in politics, but the outside world.” In addition, Halperin noted that he’s not a partisan person, and considers himself an objective journalist.
It is important to mention that Halperin kicked off the discussion by asking participants who was optimistic about Washington getting things done - and not a single hand was raised.
Obama: A Popularity Reality Check
According to Halperin, President Obama has been able to get a “fair amount” done so far, from Dodd-Frank, to Healthcare Reform, but it was “pretty much along Democratic lines.” So based on the new Republican led Congress, he said, “Obama can’t muscle things through moving forward.”
Halperin emphasized the
President has figured out that when he’s seen talking to Republicans - simply
talking to them - he gets a lot of heat from Democrats. As a result, he said,
“How will they get things done?”
Additionally, Halperin discussed the President’s overall popularity. “Look at his approval rating, it has rarely been above 50 percent with the American people,” he said. “Except with the killing of Osama Bin Laden, after which his rating went up for a short time to the mid-60s and then right back down again.” In comparison, he noted that George W. Bush’s approval rating went into the 80s after 9/11 - an approval rating that Obama has never seen.
Obama and the 114th Congress: The Doable and Not So Doable
“When the President looks like an effective leader, then his approval rating goes up,” emphasized Halperin. It’s like Bill Clinton always said, “It’s better to be strong and wrong than right and weak,” quoted Halperin. “Obama is looking to make deals with the Republican Congress,” but “he failed to build relationships” with now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) because they are fundamentally different, he said.
“The President could have made relationships with Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and others who are more like him.” And, unfortunately, “Republicans just don’t want to do deals with the President,” said Halperin. “They say, ‘why make a deal with a liberal Democrat president when we can wait and get close to a 100 percent of what we want in two years,’?” That is, he said, if they get what they hope - a Republican president in 2016.
Halperin also emphasized that Boehner would say the reason the economy has
improved is because the Republicans got elected, but they haven’t even started
to govern yet. And “big things only happen - like tax reform and a trade deal -
once in a generation,” he added.
“The president has a base of support that is extraordinary, but it is very liberal,” said Halperin. “So can he put himself forward as more of a centrist, which is how he positioned himself in order to get elected?”
He also said that it’s hard for the President to be for legislation that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is against. “But he has to come up with that model and I think trade is going to be the first test,” emphasized Halperin. He added that if Obama opens the window and sets up a bill signing on trade, it might happen.
The biggest opportunities for the President, according to Halperin, are with key
Committee Chairmen Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Paul Ryan
(R-WI) because they are known to make deals.
“Ryan made a budget deal and really came through,” he said. “Other
chairmen are inclined to wait until 2016.” However, Halperin doesn’t see Congress
getting things done on issues like tax reform.
Presidential Predictions for 2016
Halperin closed the discussion by talking about the 2016 presidential election.
On the Republican side, he said, “Romney is going to have to make the case that
he is electable,” and, ultimately, he predicts that the nominee will be Jeb
There are uncertainties, however, when it comes to Bush, emphasized Halperin. For example, he said, “Can he perform? How will his wife and daughter handle the scrutiny? Does the Right Wing put pressure on him that makes him appear too moderate to run?”
Yet, Halperin noted that Bush has other clear advantages over the competition, including the fact that everyone knows exactly how he would lead and handle key issues based on his record.
As for the Democratic Party Nominee, Hillary Clinton is a formidable competitor, he said, and is a popular member of her party. However, Halperin, who has covered the Clinton’s since 1991, contends that nothing with the Clinton’s happens in a “linear fashion.”
And, he said, her two biggest weaknesses are Jeb Bush’s strengths:
1. “Hillary has no domestic economic message;” and
2. “In public, she doesn’t seem authentic.” And, in Congress, “they see her as political and calculating.”
The bottom-line is “her internal camp is worried about whether or not she can appear more authentic and their other concern is quite simply, Jeb Bush,” emphasized Halperin.
He concluded the discussion by circling back to where he started, “Whatever the outcome, the fact is we need to block the gridlock in Washington.”