Even-tempered Obama tries to keep historic week in perspective
Prodded to gloat about his indisputably good run over the last week, President Obama’s instinct on Tuesday was to downplay.
It wasn’t on a par with his wedding week, he said, nor with the weeks in which his two daughters were born. He even noted that a basketball game in which he scored 27 points made good week once.
“One of the things I’ve learned in this presidency is that there are going to be ups and there are going to be downs,” Obama said. “I might see if we can make next week even better.”
Since his presidential team first began to gel during his 2008 campaign, friends and advisors have talked about the cool and even temper of the former law professor. He cautions his team against getting too high or too low, said one longtime advisor, and he follows the maxim himself -- even after the perfect storm that converged for the White House last week: The Supreme Court upheld the heart of Obama’s signature healthcare act. He signed a package of bipartisan trade bills into law. And as the nation reeled from a brutal mass shooting in a black South Carolina church, Obama delivered a moving address of healing and unity that inspired a new moniker from local clergy: “Reverend President.”
After months of static approval ratings, a CNN poll found that 50% of respondents said they approve of the way Obama is handling the presidency, a height for the last two years. His overall ratings got a boost from improving reviews of his handling of race relations and the economy, the network reported.
But when asked about the run of good fortune on Tuesday, Obama answered like a two-term president well aware of how quickly the winds can shift.
“My best week, I will tell you, was marrying Michelle,” he said at a news conference at the White House alongside Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. “That was a really good week. Malia and Sasha being born ... excellent weeks. There was a game where I scored 27 points. That was a pretty good week.”
Last week, he said, “was gratifying.”
The week inspired some White House aides to spike the football a bit, though mostly in private. Obama had crossed several things off his “bucket list,” as one advisor put it. Another advisor, Valerie Jarrett, who has been close to the president for years, said Obama’s reaction was typical of him. “He is grounded and focused and on weeks like last week it was all worth it,” she said.
“There was a lot of talk about this, actually, during the president’s campaign in 2007 and 2008,” recalled Josh Earnest, an early enlistee in that campaign and now the White House press secretary. “I’m not sure that any of us who even saw that leadership style in the campaign understood how critical that approach would be in running the White House.”
Ultimately, Earnest said, Obama’s approach has been integral to his administration’s goals. “If the president had spent a lot of time reading the obituaries that were written about the trade legislation, or spent a lot of time worried about the columns related to the impending death of the Affordable Care Act, we probably wouldn’t have made as much progress as we did,” he said.
Of course, the president’s agenda could still be disrupted on any number of issues, and Obama ticked them off during Tuesday’s news conference.
Tuesday’s deadline on negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program was moved back to next week, and Obama noted that there are “deep-seated disagreements and divisions” that could still derail a deal.
The Greek financial crisis is probably not a matter of grave concern to Americans, he said, but it could have a “dampening effect on the entire world economy.”
Though Rousseff brushed over the significance of the National Security Agency eavesdropping on her phone calls, Obama left room for the possibility that the spying scandal could erupt again.
“There’s still going to be differences occasionally, but that’s true with every one of our close friends and allies,” he said.
After all the caveats, though, came a reminder that Obama still occasionally feels the urge to brag.
“In many ways, last week was simply a culmination of a lot of work that we’ve been doing since I came into office,” Obama said.
His instructions to his team, he said, are to “squeeze every last ounce of progress” out of its remaining time in the Oval Office.
He’ll demand overtime pay for more Americans and push for a bipartisan deal to improve roads and bridges, he said. He’ll work on bipartisan legislation to reform the criminal justice system and fight for free community college.
And then he got ambitious.
“Are we going to make this a more inclusive economy, a more inclusive society, a more fair, just society?” he asked. “If that’s our North Star and we keep on tacking in that direction, we’re going to make progress.”
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