As House Republicans tried to figure out how many symbolic anti-spending gestures they could pull off before deciding whether or not to shut down the federal government and/or default on public debts, the president announced at the White House that he had a rather interesting phone conversation today:

President Barack Obama revealed he talked with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, marking the first time leaders from the U.S. and Iran have directly communicated since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

“Just now I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said from the White House Friday afternoon….

“The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said. “I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York: While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive agreement.”

This isn’t the sort of comment that heads of state tend to make unless lower-level discussions are pretty well advanced. So I’d stay tuned.

Obama also spent some time at his press availability reiterating his unwillingness to negotiate over a debt limit increase since the measure involves debts already incurred.
He sounded a bit impatient, which is how presidents sound when they are letting Americans know the Congress is messing around with pointless wrangling while he’s trying to get something done.

“My message to Congress is this,” Obama said. “Do not shut down the government, do not shut down the economy, pass a budget on time, pay our bills on time. Refocus on the everyday concerns of the American people.”

Obama further called on “extremists” in the House who were threatening to “burn the house down” to see reason and pay the bills Congress has already incurred.

“I will not negotiate over Congress’ responsibility to pay the bills that have already been racked up,” Obama added. “Voting for the treasury to pay America’s bills is not a concession. It is not a favor to me.”

It will be interesting to see if congressional Republicans attack Obama for engaging in trivial chitchat with godless foreigners even as they engaged in the serious business of threatening a paralyzed government and/or economic catastrophe.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.