President Obama may be enjoying golf games and browsing book stories with his daughters on Martha’s Vineyard this weekend. But the President and his aides also are doing as much political damage control as possible as summer winds down toward the inevitable return to Washington of his congressional opponents eager to challenge him on a faltering economy.
In a CBS News interview Sunday, taped during his bus tour through Midwestern states this past week, Obama admitted the depth of a problem that has seen his Gallup-tracked approval rating on the economy fall to 26 percent.
“You’ve got an unemployment rate that is still too high, an economy that’s not growing fast enough,” Obama acknowledged. “For me to argue, ‘look, we’ve actually made the right decisions, things would have been much worse had we not made those decisions,’ that’s not that satisfying if you don’t have a job right now. And I understand that and I expect to be judged a year from now on whether or not things have continued to get better.”
“I don’t think we’re in danger of another recession,” he added. “But we are in danger of not having a recovery that’s fast enough to deal with what is a genuine unemployment crisis for a whole lot of folks out there – and that’s why we need to be doing more.”
What Obama didn’t say was that “fast enough” also relates to next year’s presidential race, which now includes several strong potential GOP challengers, most recently Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Obama says he’ll announce a jobs plan next month.
Meanwhile, political heavyweights of both parties sparred Sunday on the TV talk shows.
“His policies have utterly failed. This is the seventh or eighth or ninth time that we’ve heard the president talked about producing a plan,” GOP strategist Karl Rove said on Fox News Sunday. “And each time that he sort of got around to tossing an idea on the table, it has included only more spending, more deficit, more debt, and the American people are fed up with it.”
Debating Rove, former aide Bill Burton took a familiar White House line – that it takes time to work out of the mess created by Obama’s predecessor.
The Bush administration “turned a record surplus into a deficit, got us involved in a war that we never should have been in, and turned the floor of the New York Stock Exchange into a casino,” he said.
On CNN’s State of the Union, Obama re-election campaign strategist David Axelrod laid out the outline of what Obama wants to do to boost job creation and can be expected to talk about in September.
“There are things that he has been asking Congress to do for some time, for example extending the payroll tax cut that was passed in January for another year,” Axelrod said. “There are basic things we need to do relative to infrastructure, rebuilding roads and bridges, and that needs to get done. So some of the things will be familiar because he has been talking about them.”
“The only thing that keeps us from acting on many of these things is pure politics,” he added. “The fact that we can’t agree to extend a payroll tax cut for working Americans is bewildering to me, and the only explanation is politics.”
While there have been some signs – weak as they are – of economic recovery, Republicans say Obama’s policies and recommendations are a major part of the problem.
“There’s a failure of leadership,” former GOP chairman and Bush administration advisor Ed Gillespie said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “The fact is there’s a growing sense out there – the biggest threat to his re-election – that this President may be in over his head.”
Former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe countered that point with a familiar refrain.
“We need legislation to get this done and the Congress won’t do it,” he said. “All the Republicans in Congress have done is [propose] many bills to roll back financial reform, to allow the banks to go back and write their own rules. That’s all you can say has come out of the Republicans in Congress.”