‘That’s why they’re called leaders’

One of the more common Republican criticisms of President Obama, at least in the context of the debt-reduction talks, is that he hasn’t shown enough “leadership.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the floor late last week to cry, “Where in the world has the president been for the last month? … He’s the one in charge.”

One of the parts of Obama’s press conference this morning that I especially liked was the president’s pushback against the notion that he’s been a passive observer in this process.

“I’ve got to say, I’m very amused when I start hearing comments about, ‘Well, the president needs to show more leadership on this.’ Let me tell you something. Right after we finished dealing with the government shutdown, averting a government shutdown, I called the leaders here together. I said we’ve got to get this done. I put Vice President Biden in charge of a process — that, by the way, has made real progress — but these guys have met, worked through all of these issues. I met with every single caucus for an hour to an hour and a half each — Republican senators, Democratic senators; Republican House, Democratic House. I’ve met with the leaders multiple times. At a certain point, they need to do their job.

“And so, this thing, which is just not on the level, where we have meetings and discussions, and we’re working through process, and when they decide they’re not happy with the fact that at some point you’ve got to make a choice, they just all step back and say, ‘Well, you know, the president needs to get this done.’ They need to do their job.

“Now is the time to go ahead and make the tough choices. That’s why they’re called leaders…. They’re in one week, they’re out one week. And then they’re saying, ‘Obama has got to step in.’ You need to be here. I’ve been here. I’ve been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis. You stay here. Let’s get it done.”

I’m glad the president pressed this, not just because he sounded a bit like Truman slamming the do-nothing Congress, but because many in the media have bought into the notion that lawmakers have dug in on this, and the president hasn’t. That’s nonsense.

Congressional Republicans haven’t been slaving away, trying to strike a credible deal. They’ve been making threats, drawing lines in the sand, and barking orders about what is and is not allowed to be on the negotiating table.

“They need to do their job.” Part of those responsibilities includes working in good faith to find an equitable compromise with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House, and then doing what they must do, but what the president cannot do: passing the damn debt-ceiling increase.

Tick tock.