Given the angst about the Obama administration at this year’s Netroots Nation conference—from the president’s policies on Afghanistan and civil liberties to his prioritization of deficit reduction over jobs—there was much speculation about what type of reception White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer would get during his appearance Friday morning. And sure enough, Daily Kos moderator Kaili Joy Gray—a k a “Angry Mouse”—grilled Pfeiffer about the president’s positions on jobs, gay marriage, Libya and his reluctance to fight back against the GOP and use his executive authority to circumvent Republican obstruction.
Things were testy from the start, when Gray asked Pfeiffer why Obama has not introduced a new jobs plan to boost the lagging economy. “It is a false decision to say we don’t have a jobs bill,” Pfeiffer responded. “We have a number of proposals in Congress that have been blocked by Republicans.” He pointed to a national infrastructure bank, a national wireless program, clean energy investments and tax credits for small businesses as examples. “You can expect the president will unveil a number of new initiatives,” Pfeiffer said when pressed on the issue.
Also on the economic front, Pfeiffer was asked if the White House would draw a line in the sand during negotiations with the GOP over raising the debt ceiling. “On Social Security, the president will do nothing to slash benefits, privatize the program or change the nature of the program,” Pfeiffer responded. “The same with Medicare.” But Pfeiffer refused to say whether the retirement age would be raised for either program. “I’m not going to have a negotiation with Republicans here on the stage with you,” he answered somewhat testily.
The discussion also touched on a number of other issues, including foreign policy and gay rights. “When will you stop kicking gay people out of the military?” Gray asked, referencing the implantation date of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “As soon as we possibly can,” Pfeiffer answered.
She also pressed the communications honcho on whether Libya would turn into another Vietnam, and why the White House has not sought Congressional authority for the mission. Pfeiffer answered that the administration “went in in a limited way with a multilateral coalition,” and was not in violation of the War Powers Act—an answer unlikely to satisfy critics of the Libya mission in Congress.
Gray asked Pfeiffer why Obama hadn’t filled vacant administration posts blocked by the GOP via recess appointments and whether Elizabeth Warren would be named the permanent director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Pfeiffer praised Warren’s “amazing work in getting that bureau stood up,” but would only say that “she’s one of the people who is under consideration, and we hope to have an announcement on that soon.”
Despite her relentless questioning, Gray didn’t get much out of the defensive Pfeiffer, and her strident tone even alienated a number of Obama’s progressive critics in the room. “This #NN11 questioner does not represent the netroots and is blowing a valuable opportunity,” wrote Adam Green of the Progressive Campaign Change Committee on Twitter. “Overall critique of #Nn11 questioner: she was out of the loop on what progressives are doing to strategically pressure Obama to fight.”
Indeed, the Q&A was unlikely to change the White House’s opinion of the so-called “professional left,” or vice versa. Thus far, the panels at Netroots Nation have been largely preoccupied with the Republican Party’s assault on workers in states like Wisconsin, and the corrosive effect of corporate money and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on our political system. (Full disclosure: I was on a panel yesterday about “Structural Barriers to Progressive Success.”) What the Obama administration is and is not doing almost seems like an afterthought.