WASHINGTON, D.C. — Whether your lawmaker is a liberal Democrat, a conservative Republican, or a moderate on either side of the aisle, there were a couple of things that everyone in Minnesota’s delegation seems to agree on about President Obama’s first 100 days in office — it has been a jam-packed, non-stop few months here, and only time will tell, ultimately, how successful the President’s agenda will be.
Here are some thoughts from Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and five of the state’s eight members of the House of Representatives who responded to MinnPost questions about the Obama administration’s first 100 days. House members responding to our questions were 1st District Democratic Tim Walz, 5th District Democrat Keith Ellison, 6th District Republican Michele Bachmann, 7th District Democrat Collin Peterson and 8th District Democrat Jim Oberstar.
The state’s other three House members — 2nd District Republican John Kline, 3rd District Republican Erik Paulsen and 4th District Democrat Betty McCollum — issued brief statements to MinnPost. They appear at the end of this article.
So far, what has President Obama accomplished?
Klobuchar: I think he’s had a strong start. He has shown the kind of confidence and calm that we need right now. I certainly don’t think all of our problems are solved — far from it. I think that it is going to take a lot more work. And, he knows that, and part of his appeal — and his strength — is that he is willing to admit that and tell the truth that we are not going to be able to turn this around overnight.
Walz: I think the biggest thing is obviously there has been tangible legislation, that image of leadership and a sense of transparency.
Ellison: I think he has passed one of the most impressive public investment bills since the Great Depression. To me, it is an amazing feat … it is a towering achievement.
Bachmann: I think that he has been able to accomplish much of what was on his agenda … [But] I think he has been 180 degrees wrong on solving the economic problems that confront the country.”
Peterson: He’s doing fine. I think people get too hung up on this 100-days stuff.
Oberstar: Domestically we have a president now who will sign bills that, 90-plus days ago, were being vetoed or opposed or threatened with a veto. And now, those same issues are being signed into law … we have a president who is putting money in and making investments … It is so refreshing. We are going forward instead of going backward.
Does he strike the right balance between ambition and realism?
Klobuchar: I mean, the interesting thing is that he has set expectations high. When he talks about doing a number of things at once because they have been waiting on the backburner for too long, from health care reform to financial reform, he means it. So, while he has set the expectations high, in terms of what we need to do, I think he hasn’t overblown the promises about how fast we will get there.
Walz: There is this idea that there are only so many things he can do. He has to be aware of it, but in the situation that we are in, he is striking that balance. I don’t think that he is biting off things that are irrelevant to the rest of the country.
I think he understands that if he doesn’t tackle health care and energy and a change in education, that all the work he does on the banking system and with the [economic] recovery act will be [less effective].
Ellison: I think it is better to play big than small. It is better to have a big agenda and do everything you can to achieve it. If, at the end of the day, people say Obama fixed the financial system, made a massive investment in infrastructure and did something major with health care, I think you would be a pretty stingy person to say if he didn’t fix immigration and energy he hadn’t done an enormously good job.”
Bachmann: I think the president is quite ambitious, and I think his [goals] for a leftist government are being realized, but I don’t think that is what a majority of the American people want.
Peterson: He is being pretty ambitious. It will get addressed in Congress. If it is too ambitious, it won’t happen.
Oberstar: He has shown great propensity to move among the different issues and to deal with each on their own merits and not to get absorbed by one to the detriment of others.
Has he laid out a policy agenda that addressed the right issues?
Walz: There are a lot of us that aren’t right there with his policies … We are uncomfortable with cap-and-trade issues because of the implications to the Midwest.
Oberstar: Well, he has made an extraordinary start. We are going to see a million jobs in the construction sector, hundreds of thousands of jobs in the other portion of the stimulus. You are going to see real progress made and groundwork laid for short-term and long-term growth.
Has he built the right alliances?
Klobuchar: I am not as depressed on [this] front as some people are. I still give it hope because I work with these people [Republicans] every day, and I wasn’t surprised that they all didn’t just say, “Hey, sign me up for 800 billion dollars in stimulus spending.” I think the bigger test will be health care reform and energy reform where there have already been seeds of bipartisan work planted … If they turn their back on us on health care, then I’ll be depressed.
Walz: The thing that I think is unfortunate is it feels like the most substantial debates on policy are still happening in the Democratic caucuses. It seems like the Republicans are choosing not to [join] … I think my Republican friends are missing an opportunity. They are misjudging what President Obama wants and are misjudging his ability to be moderate … I think [the lack of Republican participation] is unfortunate. This is going to cause him some policy problems [in the future].
Ellison: I think he has done a fine job in building alliances.
Bachmann: Well, he hasn’t been bipartisan here on his domestic agenda … His alliances are among Democrats. He hasn’t been building alliances with members of the Republican Party… If you have alliances on the other side of the aisle, you tend to have a better result in the long term. I believe that the president will be successful in enacting his agenda in the short term because he has those majorities, but for the long term, he may have a difficult time.
Oberstar: Goodness knows he tried, and he made every effort at bipartisanship. Obama actually came to the Republicans’ conference meeting. He appealed to them for support and extended the hand of friendship … and then they all voted against the stimulus.
Has he appointed the right team to develop his policies?
Klobuchar: I think, for the most part, he has. Time will tell. There will always be someone who ends up being a dud. We don’t know who they are right now. But, you know, I think we have to give them time to do their work.
Walz: I think that he is getting the right team in. With that said, it has been hard, and there have been some incredibly embarrassing tax issues that have slowed us down.
Ray LaHood on Transportation, I don’t think he could have had a better choice. The verdict is still out on his economic team. I am still uncomfortable with where we are headed on the economic side. I’m waiting to see on that one.
Ellison: Eric Holder is a very good guy, and he is a wonderful pick for attorney general. So, Eric Holder is a brilliant guy. I think Hilda Solis for Labor was a great decision and Shaun Donovan to head HUD.
I think some of the mix-up in Commerce was kind of disappointing, but they can’t be perfect. I am so glad they didn’t put [Senator] Judd Gregg in there.
Geithner is well qualified, and he is coming across better than he did. He is now communicating better. I think he is going to be all right.
Bachmann: I think he has appointed a team that represents his ideals, but his team has obviously had a lot of personal issues with tax problems and ethical issues, and I think that under normal circumstances that would prove to be quite embarrassing.
Peterson: It’s too early to tell. It’s the president’s prerogative to pick the people he wants.
Oberstar: I think he has the right people in the cabinets. Of course, Secretary of State Clinton is a brilliant choice. She has an international following of her own … she speaks with personal authority that is enormous.
Ray LaHood is a wonderful conciliator who brings people together … He is a consummate listener and talks straight to people.
Has he made the right symbolic gestures with foreign countries?
Klobuchar: When I was in Asia, one of the first things that the Chinese brought up was that they were very pleased that he [President Obama] had stepped into the dispute with the French President… When we went to Japan, one of the first things the Japanese prime minister said was how honored they were that he was the first one that Obama welcomed to the White House … And so it was very interesting how focused they were on that diplomacy and how much the administration has thought out their own diplomatic efforts in terms of different parts of the world.
Walz: We engaged Stalin. President Nixon engaged Mao, and it was very hard to talk to Mao during the Cultural Revolution, and they did it. Now is not the time — I don’t think that it is in our nation’s interest — to isolate.”
Hugo Chavez is a leader in a Western Hemisphere country that is a major producer of oil. I think it is best to engage.
[But] I also think it was good not to go to the conference with [Iran President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.
Ellison: I think the work he has done in reaching out to the Muslim world is very good for America. It will enhance our security, and it will put a lot of pressure on people who traffic in hatred. It will make their job harder.
I hope that he will understand that America is part of the Muslim world and will continue to reach out to Muslims internationally as well as nationally.
Bachmann: I think he has made 180 degrees wrong with his symbolic gestures — bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia and also his comments and actions with the Venezuelan leader.
It is interesting that the President Obama has esteemed these leaders who have dissed our country.
I am very concerned with what I am seeing on the foreign policy front. I think that could be detrimental to the U.S. in the future.
I think he has undermined the position of the United States.
Peterson: Well, I don’t know if they are symbolic or not. I mean, if you go [to a meeting] you shake somebody’s hand. People get too fixated on all this stuff. It is just common courtesy, and they are making this huge deal out of it.”
Oberstar: Good heavens, do you turn your back on the countries that are just off-shore. President Bush did that, and he succeeded in alienating our neighbors and alienating countries from which we buy oil for a large portion of our domestic energy needs. What was the benefit of that?”
He is remaking America’s image in the eyes of the rest of the world and restoring the respect that other countries have had [for the United States].
He has made extraordinary strides in re-establishing America’s moral authority in the world community.
What has been your biggest disappointment so far with the Obama presidency?
Klobuchar: Well, I think there are always things you want to get done. I want all the money for our rail right now. You always want things to move more quickly … I would have liked to see some of the financial reforms come out sooner, but I know we’ll get to that soon … and I think the vetting process was a little rocky at times, but they have made progress there.
Walz: His failure to address the Armenian genocide while in Turkey, to me, was a disappointment. I think he missed an opportunity there.
Ellison: I can’t claim that I really had anything. I would like to have heard something on the Liberian situation faster. It just got down to the wire, but he did a good job of it, of course. It probably turned a few of my hairs gray, but I can’t say they mishandled it.
Bachmann: The fact that he has been accomplishing his agenda.
Oberstar: I can’t say I find anything disappointing [with Obama’s administration] … My disappointment is more in the committee. I thought we should have had closer to $60 billion in transportation. We should have had a bigger [dollar figure] for transit and more for energy and the waste and water treatment program. Those are the real job creators. But that wasn’t Obama’s doing; that was in negotiations in the House and Senate.
Rep. Kline’s statement: In his first 100 days, I have disagreed with President Obama and his administration on many issues — including runaway federal spending and questionable cuts to the Defense Department during a time of war. I am dismayed that despite Americans facing a faltering economy, in the first three months of this year, the United States obligated more money than has been spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts combined. I am hopeful that as we continue to confront the many challenges facing our nation, President Obama lives up to his promise of putting principles above partisanship and will work with lawmakers — regardless of ideology or party affiliation — to achieve our common goal of defending the American people and our way of life.
Rep. Paulsen’s statement: While I understand the major challenges the president is facing, my primary concern as we approach his first 100 days in office is the massive amount of spending going on in Washington. In just a few months, Congress has spent $1.5 trillion dollars and passed a budget that will produce major deficits for years to come. I am hopeful we can work with the president in a bipartisan manner going forward, but we cannot continue to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren through runaway government spending.
Rep. McCollum’s statement: President Obama is providing remarkable leadership while our country is facing extraordinarily difficult challenges at home and around the world. Whether it has been extending health care to children, rebuilding America and saving jobs through the Recovery Act, or restoring our country’s standing in the world, these 100 days have been transformative and a 180-degree shift from the previous administration. President Obama has not only met expectations, he is restoring confidence and a positive sense of direction for the American people when we need it most.
Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.
President Obama: The first 100 days
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