Did Bush and Obama make a secret deal in 2008?Posted: December 3, 2010 | |
George W. Bush’s bombastic return to the world stage has reminded me of my favourite Bush anecdote, which for various reasons we couldn’t publish at the time. Some of the witnesses still dine out on it.
The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor.
Naturally the election came up in conversation. Trying to be even-handed and polite, the Brits said something diplomatic about McCain’s campaign, expecting Bush to express some warm words of support for the Republican candidate.
Not a chance. “I probably won’t even vote for the guy,” Bush told the group, according to two people present.“I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.”
Time Magazine later quoted a Bush “spokesman,” who said Barker’s anecdote was “ridiculous and untrue.”
“President Bush proudly supported John McCain in the election and voted for him,” said Bush spokesman David Sherzer to Politico.
Nevertheless, President Obama has gone to great lengths to protect members of the Bush administration from any accountability for the crimes they committed while in office. The Justice Department defended John Yoo, author of the torture memo. Justice also went to court to defend the Bush administration’s use “state secrets privilege” to excuse NSA domestic spying. They defended Donald Rumsfeld against charges related to torture.
Recently it was learned from formerly secret cables released by Wikileaks that the Obama administration pressured Spain to drop criminal charges against six Bush officials. David Corn writes:
In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.
The Bush officials were charged with
“creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture.” The six were former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s former general counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and John Yoo, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel.
The Republicans who helped Obama pressure Spain were Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.). Corn again:
Back when it seemed that this case could become a major international issue, during an April 14, 2009, White House briefing, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs if the Obama administration would cooperate with any request from the Spaniards for information and documents related to the Bush Six. He said, “I don’t want to get involved in hypotheticals.” What he didn’t disclose was that the Obama administration, working with Republicans, was actively pressuring the Spaniards to drop the investigation.
In general, as anyone with half a brain has noticed, the Obama administration has carried on Bush’s policies and sometimes has taken them even further–for example with Obama’s claiming the power to unilaterally order the assassination of American citizens.
Why would Obama defend Bush administration policies so assiduously? Is it just because Obama wants to hold onto the “enhanced” executive powers that Bush claimed during his tenure as president? Or are these two supposed political opponents actually engaged in a collaborative effort to expand the powers of the presidency?
Let’s look back at the 2008 general election campaign. In late September, Barack Obama and John McCain were preparing for the first presidential debate, to be held at the University of Mississippi on September 26, shortly after news of the financial meltdown broke. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had proposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to Congress on September 20.
On September 24, John McCain announced that he was suspending his campaign in order to return to the Senate. Obama said he would continue preparing for the debate. But when President Bush invited both men to participate in talks at the White House, Obama agreed to attend.
At the “bipartisan” meeting, Obama sat next to Secretary Paulson, whom he said he had been talking with daily by telephone. While McCain argued against a bailout of the banks and for more loosening of regulations, Obama appeared to be supportive of some kind of government solution to the financial meltdown.
You may recall that McCain was actually doing quite well against Obama before the economic crisis hit. But the momentum shifted to Obama’s campaign afterwards.
When the time came for a vote on TARP, both McCain and Obama voted in favor; and Obama “pledged to telephone wavering House of Representatives members to urge them to support the legislation.” Obama was particularly instrumental in convincing members of the Black Caucus to change their votes on TARP from nay to aye.
Shortly after Obama was elected President, he had a private two hour meeting with Bush in the Oval Office.
President-elect Obama and President Bush met in the Oval Office, their first substantive one-on-one session, while first lady Laura Bush and Obama’s wife, Michelle, talked in the White House residence….
It was Obama’s first visit to the Oval Office. The agenda was kept private, although he and Bush were expected to discuss their transition of power and such pressing issues as the war in Iraq and the country’s economic downturn.
Bush and Obama “had a broad discussion about the importance of working together throughout the transition of government in light of the nation’s many critical economic and security challenges,” said Stephanie Cutter, spokeswoman for Obama’s transition team.
“President-elect Obama thanked President Bush for his commitment to a smooth transition, and for his and first lady Laura Bush’s gracious hospitality in welcoming the Obamas to the White House,” Cutter said.
A day earlier, a leader of Obama’s transition team said the president and president-elect were expected to discuss “a broad range of issues,” focusing on the economy.
“It’s clear that we need to stabilize the economy, to deal with the financial meltdown that’s now spreading across the rest of the economy. The auto industry is really, really back on its heels,” transition team leader John Podesta told CNN’s “Late Edition” on Sunday.
Andrea Mitchell reported that according to an anonymous source:
Obama focused on three economic issues during his conversations with President Bush this afternoon. The top topics: a stimulus package in the lame duck session, aid to the auto industry, and help for homeowners with adjustible-rate mortgages in order to prevent more foreclosures.
According to the source, Obama told Bush that action is needed on a stimulus package now – in a lame duck session – and cannot wait until after the inauguration.
Throughout the transition period, Obama and Bush continued their friendly collaboration. On January 12, 2008, ABC News reported:
President-elect Barack Obama asked President Bush today to request the release of the second $350 billion in federal bailout funds so he would have “ammunition” if the country’s fragile economy weakened further.
The White House said that Bush has agreed to request the money. [….]
Obama and Bush have teamed up to get the money released. Bush has agreed to request the funding, and Obama will lobby for it by arguing that he will “rebrand” the program and make better use of the money.
There’s that vaunted “11 dimensional chess” that Obama’s “progressive” follower kept buying into.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama’s top economic adviser Larry Summers called the need for the second round of funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program is “imminent and urgent.”
In his letter, Summers said the money would be used for a “sweeping effort” to save homeowners threatened with foreclosure, and make the money available to small banks and businesses along with corporate giants.
Hmmm….that never happened, did it?
“I have talked to the president-elect about this subject,” Bush said at his farewell news conference today.
“I told him if he needed the $350 billion on my watch, I’d be willing to ask for it.. if he felt like it needed to happen on my watch,” Bush said.
What was going on between Bush and Obama back then? And were they collaborating even before Obama won the nomination? Obviously, I don’t know the answers to these highly speculative questions. I only know what I have seen happening over the past two years–the advancement of Republican policies generally, a deliberate refusal to investigate Bush era crimes, and the use of the Justice Department to defend the members of the Bush administration who committed those crimes.
In general, Obama has gone out of his way, and even risked losing many supporters, in his efforts to support Bush policies and to aid Bush’s friends (the “have mores”) every step of the way. Why would he take all these actions to protect Bush, members of Bush’s administration, and Bush’s elite political base while running as a Democrat and claiming to govern as a Democrat?
Was there some kind of deal struck with the Bush family or with Bush’s wall street supporters to carry on Bush’s domestic and foreign policies? If so, what does Obama get out of it? Is it worth the humiliation of losing in 2012? We’ll all asked these questions many times, and I don’t know the answers. I just know that as time goes on, my suspicion that Bush and Obama are collaborators grows stronger and stronger.
What do you think?