Conservative Congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois twice called out the media for protecting President Obama on Thursday night's In the Arena, and told host Eliot Spitzer to his face that "you're doing a much better job of making [Obama's] case than he did."
Before the interview began, CNN excoriated the verbal war on Capitol Hill that ensued after Obama's criticism of Republicans in his press conference, likening the spat to the frat-house chaos in the movie "Animal House." However, Rep. Walsh minced no words when he came on the show, saying the president was "in over his head," "in denial," and "acted like a 10 year-old" in the presser.
Then Walsh called out the press not once, but twice to Spitzer's face. "I'm not talking about you in particular, Eliot, but your profession has protected [President Obama]. He's in a cocoon. And the minute somebody pokes him and gets critical with him, look at how huffy he gets."
The former Democrat governor of New York offered a defense for President Obama, detailing the work he has done on the budget and giving a reason why he kept peddling points Walsh deemed "insignificant." Walsh had hit Obama for repeatedly emphasizing a corporate tax break on private jet owners as an example of why Republicans were not serious enough about closing tax loopholes.
"Eliot, you're doing a much better job making [Obama's] case than he did," Walsh boldly responded.
Later on, the congressman again chided the press for covering for Obama. "This is a president, whether you want to admit it or not, has been protected by your profession," he told Spitzer. "And that's got to stop. Everything he says now matters. And when he plays politics with issues, like they are, you've got to call him on it."
Spitzer, predictably, denied any notion that he or the rest of the media were taking it easy on the president. "I've been very hard on this president over a whole slew of issues, as have so many people in not only the news media, but the cable news media and there's obviously FOX that's very critical, so I don't think he's been protected by anybody," Spitzer insisted.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on June 30 at 8:11 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
ELIOT SPITZER: On our "Front Page" tonight, the disintegrating tone in Washington. That city is never pleasant in the summer but this week the atmosphere is especially rancid. If this were a school yard spat, you could say that President Obama started it when he fired this shot at Republicans.
SPITZER: Wonderful, thank you. So let's just begin. You came to Washington, part of a new breed of members of Congress, put ideology aside for a moment. You said you wanted to change the way government operated, sort of the visibility and the sort of public perception of how things got done. Is this not a new low that we're hitting today?
Rep. JOE WALSH (R-Ill.): No, again, I don't think this is anything unusual. Look, these are serious issues. This is a pretty passionate time. The president believes certain things. America woke up last year and sent Republicans to Congress because they recoiled at what he believed in. Look, I've been pretty blunt in what I think of this president. I think he's in over his head. I think he's in denial. And yesterday he acted like a 10-year-old. Now none of that bothers me because I don't think he's really even part of this debate. This president a few months ago started running for reelection. He hasn't been serious about any of the serious fiscal issues our country is facing. I don't take him very seriously.
SPITZER: Wow, I just want to make sure I heard this. He's a 10- year-old in over his head, hasn't been seriously participating in the debate. You're talking about the president of the United States?
WALSH: Absolutely. Look, Eliot, we voted for this guy because of who he was. We didn't vote for him based on anything he'd done, because he really didn't have much of a resume. We all acknowledge that. I think very few of us voted for him because of anything he said. He was a historic figure. And now I think we're beginning to wake up and realize he doesn't know what he's doing.
And worse than that, he doesn't like to take any sort of criticism. I'm not talking about you in particular, Eliot, but your profession has protected this guy. He's in a cocoon. And the minute somebody pokes him and gets critical with him, look at how huffy he gets. He says where have you been, Republicans? Here's a guy who's been on 33 fundraising trips since the beginning of the year, who's been on 17 rounds of golf, and he's talking about where the Republicans have been. You may not like what we're doing, but the Republicans have put forth a budget. Eight hundred days now, and the Senate hasn't done anything and this president's been AWOL –
SPITZER: Well, Congressman – look, just because – I hate to interrupt, but just because, you know, we do, as you know, you've been on the show a bunch and you'll keep coming back, so we have limited time, but I just have got to observe this. First let me ask you this, do you think Senator Cornyn's critique, his use of the word "demagogic" and "ashamed," you agree with that, you buy into that critique of the president?
WALSH: Oh, I said – Eliot, I said three months ago the president ought to be ashamed of himself when he put forth a budget in February that didn't have anything in it.
SPITZER: Congressman, let me ask you this. I mean, again, I hate to interrupt. But he has put forth a set of proposals that would cut $4 trillion over the next 10 years. Now you disagree with the pieces in the puzzle as it fits together. But the bottom-line number is $4 trillion. Paul Ryan has put forth a plan that I disagree with, but he claims it would cut $5 trillion. I don't think it does. But they're not even that far apart. So you're talking about serious ideological differences here, but well-founded and thoughtful opinions. So why does it need to become such an issue of personal vendetta? The president, as you just acknowledged, is a very smart, thoughtful guy.
WALSH: Well, if he - I don't know, Eliot, that's you saying that. Look, if he's putting forth thoughtful proposals, why does he mention a corporate tax break for private jet owners six times last night? Now you can debate the pros and cons of a tax break for private jet owners, but you can't debate the fact that that'll cut $3 billion over the next 10 years. That's not even – that's totally insignificant to the crisis this country is facing. Why did he mention it six times?
SPITZER: I'll tell you why. And I – at one level I agree with you, at another level I disagree. I agree with you numerically and I made the same point on the show last night. That is insignificant in the grand scheme of the budget gaps we're talking about. But he used it and I think fairly, as representative of the fact that the Republicans, your party, don't want to do any of the loophole closures.
And he used this as an example of one that he thought was easy, that most people would say yes, there is a sensible set of them. And he was using it as being emblematic of the larger point. And so, again, yes, we could always pick apart the rhetorical points that are made, but I think at a deeper level he is trying to build a consensus very much in the middle around this issue, isn't he?
WALSH: Eliot, you're doing a much better job making his case than he did. Look, it was insignificant. He mentioned it six times. If he had the courage of his convictions, why doesn't he stand up yesterday and say, I'm going to raise taxes on the wealthy. I'm going to raise rates. Look, I think the reason he was so petulant yesterday, and he did act like a 10-year-old, is because this debate has passed him by. The American people have passed him by. They know we're borrowing money every hour that we can't afford. He talks about – Eliot, our deficit's going to go up $28 billion next month.
SPITZER: Congressman –
WALSH: Come on now. Get serious, Mr. President.
SPITZER: Can I give you the answer? I think I'll give you the answer to why he didn't talk about raising marginal rates for the wealthy. He does want to do that. He wants to repeal what we call, traditionally, the Bush tax cuts. He has made that very clear over and over again and he has said he wants to do it when they expire at the end of 2012. The reason he isn't raising that issue now is because he's trying to forge the compromise that can be put in place before August 2nd, and so he's only putting on the table those particular pieces that are in play. He knows that's not going to happen. He was actually, I think, trying to operate within the bounds of reasonableness and fair play. He wouldn't deny what he wants to do on that front.
WALSH: Eliot, let me ask – Eliot let me ask you a question.
WALSH: Objectively. What did you think of his press conference yesterday?
SPITZER: I thought it showed increasing frustration. I have not been in that place precisely, of course, but having been a governor, knowing what it's like to deal with legislators – let me tell you, executives don't basically like legislators, you've learned that. There's a sense that you guys are always running for cover and the buck, you know, stops at the executive's desk. So I think a little bit of that anxiety and frustration was clearly getting there.
WALSH: Oh man.
SPITZER: But I don't think it was out of bounds. I mean, you know, everybody has just got to calm down a little bit.
WALSH: Look, it doesn't – it doesn't bother me. But I think what it does is it wakes the American people up. This is a president, whether you want to admit it or not, has been protected by your profession. And that's got to stop. Everything he says now matters. And when he plays politics with issues, like they are, you've got to call him on it.
SPITZER: Look –
WALSH: Again, you may not like what Republicans are putting out there, but we are acknowledging this country is a –
SPITZER: Congressman –
WALSH: – is in a spending crisis and we want to do something about it.
SPITZER: Let me be real clear. I've been very hard on this president over a whole slew of issues, as have so many people in not only the news media, but the cable news media and there's obviously FOX that's very critical, so I don't think he's been protected by anybody.
I think that right now what we're seeing is a genuine ideological divide that has not been bridged. There's a fundamental debate about how to close this serious budget gap that everybody acknowledges is there, although some of us also thinks the job crisis –
WALSH: No, they don't. No, no, no, no.
SPITZER: I want to give you the last word.
WALSH: No. And I respect your opinion, Eliot. I just think he's in denial. The Democrats are in denial. If they weren't in denial, they wouldn't have waited 800 days and we haven't seen a budget. They've got to get serious.
SPITZER: All right, Congressman Joe Walsh, as always, thanks for joining us. And I look forward to having you back.
- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.