"Tonight, the President takes on his Republican opponents face to face and fact by fact," Katie Couric teased at the top of Friday's CBS Evening News in setting up an anti-Republican zinger from President Barack Obama: "That's factually just not true. And you know it's not true."
Reporting on Obama's appearance before GOP House members at their retreat in Baltimore, Chip Reid was in awe of Obama and delivered lines that might as well have been formulated by White House Press Secretary Roberts Gibbs:
♦ It was extraordinary. And it was a command performance by the President. In fact, some Republicans are wondering if they made a mistake by allowing TV cameras in the room.
♦ It was on health care reform where he finally revealed his exasperation with Republican attacks.
♦ Throughout what was essentially a policy debate, the President demonstrated intimate knowledge of the issues....And deep familiarity with Republican positions.
♦ Republicans were on their best behavior. There were no "you lie" moments. But when the President thought the last question was unfair, he let him know it.
♦ Here at the White House, some believe this could be a game-changer for the President. As one official put it, this is the best thing the President has done in a very long time.
That last one may very have been Gibbs. ABC and NBC were equally excited by the event, but Jake Tapper and Savannah Guthrie were not so in the tank for Obama. "Into the fray. An extraordinary and unprecedented encounter. President Obama goes toe-to-toe with a room full of Republican Congressmen with the cameras rolling," fill-in ABC anchor Dan Harris teased World News while NBC's Brian Williams announced: "Question time. It was a first. President Obama on live TV, no script, taking on the party that opposes him on almost everything."
(MSNBC was so enthralled that it replaced Countdown and Rachel Maddow's show with an 8-10 PM EST special Friday night, re-run at noon EST on Saturday, "President's Question Time," re-playing the event intermixed with laudatory comments for Obama from Keith Olbermann, Maddow and Chris Matthews.)
The lead story on the Friday, January 29 CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Good evening, everyone. In his State of the Union, President Obama called on Democrats and Republicans to work out their differences. Today, they hashed them out at an extraordinary meeting in Baltimore. The Democratic President was invited to appear at a gathering of House Republicans and he accepted. He started by addressing them and then he debated them. Chip Reid is at the White House and, Chip, we've never seen a face-off quite like this between a President and members of the opposition party.
CHIP REID: That's right, Katie. It was extraordinary. And it was a command performance by the President. In fact, some Republicans are wondering if they made a mistake by allowing TV cameras in the room. House Republicans welcomed the President with a standing ovation and went out of their way to set a respectful tone.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Mr. President, we really are grateful that you've come.
REID: The questions, though, went straight to the heart of their fundamental disagreements.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE PENCE: Will you consider supporting across-the-board tax relief as President Kennedy did?
REID: Throughout, the President stood his ground.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What you may consider across-the-board tax cuts could be, for example, greater tax cuts for people who are making a billion dollars. I may not agree to a tax cut for Warren Buffett.
REID: But it was on health care reform where he finally revealed his exasperation with Republican attacks.
OBAMA: But if you were to listen to debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. No, I mean, that's how you guys presented it.
REID: He blamed them for destroying any real chance of working together.
OBAMA: You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is "this guy's doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America."
REID: But an old friend noted that when they both served in the Illinois legislature, Obama was known for reaching across the aisle.
REPRESENTATIVE PETER ROSKAM: Over the past year, in my view, that attribute hasn't been in full bloom.
REID: The President then conceded both sides are at fault.
OBAMA: Just a tone of civility instead of slash-and-burn would be helpful.
REID: Throughout what was essentially a policy debate, the President demonstrated intimate knowledge of the issues.
OBAMA: We'd refund part of your payroll tax for every dollar you increase those wages faster than inflation. It's a simple concept.
REID: And deep familiarity with Republican positions.
OBAMA: I understand that. I've read your bills. I've read your legislation.
REID: When the scheduled 45 minutes was up, the President said "let's keep going."
OBAMA: You know, I'm having fun.
REID: Republicans were on their best behavior. There were no "you lie" moments. But when the President thought the last question was unfair, he let him know it.
REPRESENTATIVE JEB HENSARLING: Will that new budget, like your old budget, triple the national debt?
OBAMA: That's factually just not true. And you know it's not true.
REID: Hensarling, though, didn't back down, though. Obama talks a good game, he said, but:
HENSARLING: I find myself agreeing with about 80 percent of what he says, I just tend to disagree with about 80 percent of what he does.
REID: Here at the White House, some believe this could be a game-changer for the President. As one official put it, this is the best thing the President has done in a very long time. Katie?
- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center