- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2011

After House Speaker John A. Boehner cut him out of debt talks last week, President Obama has found himself relegated to an outside role, using his considerable public image to try to frame the debate going on 16 blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner both addressed the nation Monday, but while Mr. Boehner has been active on Capitol Hill, the president’s public schedule has been light since then.

He has met with top Cabinet officials — including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner — and honored the San Francisco Giants for winning last year’s World Series, but his record pace of news conferences has come to an end, and the public meetings with congressional leaders have disappeared from his schedule.

The White House says the president has been busy in meetings and making phone calls but wouldn’t offer reporters any specific details on if, and how, he’s been involved in the debt showdown after it moved to the Capitol, where the House and Senate are dueling over separate plans to raise the government’s $14.29 trillion borrowing limit before Aug. 2.

“First of all, he has been very visible in this, calling meetings, coming out and talking to you,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday. “The fact that he’s not standing here in front of you I can assure you does not mean he’s not intensely engaged in this debate.”

What’s not clear is the nature of Mr. Obama’s engagement, or with whom he’s been engaged. As he did the day before, Mr. Carney wouldn’t divulge with whom the president was meeting or talking.

“I’m not going to detail conversations or name individuals,” he said, dodging a question about the last time Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Boehner.

After his Monday night prime-time address — in which he implored Americans to lobby their representatives on Capitol Hill — Mr. Obama hasn’t held any public events. According to schedules released by the White House, Mr. Obama met with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Tuesday, with senior advisers on Wednesday, and with Mr. Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday.

On Friday, he’ll be back in the public eye to announce new fuel standards for cars and light trucks manufactured between 2017 and 2025.

That’s quite a contrast from the previous three weeks, when Mr. Obama held at least three news conferences, made three statements to the press, and hosted a town-hall meeting on the subject.

But even with Mr. Obama now on the sidelines as events unfold on Capitol Hill, administration officials have put on a full-court press in public, with senior advisers making the rounds on TV all week to frame the debate. On Thursday, the White House had the only Republican in Mr. Obama’s Cabinet, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, address reporters and make a pitch for compromise.

In leaving talks with Mr. Obama last week, Mr. Boehner said he felt the president was no longer an acceptable partner, and on several occasions described negotiating with him as being like “dealing with Jell-O” because the speaker felt he could never pin the president down on a position.

“The White House moved the goalposts,” the Ohio Republican told reporters. “There was an agreement, until the president demanded $400 billion more, which was going to be nothing more than a tax increase on the American people.”

Republicans this week continued to blast Mr. Obama, calling him absent and pointing out that while House Republicans and Senate Democrats have written legislative plans, the president never has.

“The country is very stark, and you have two different types of leadership in this government,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, California Republican. “You have one in the White House that doesn’t know how to lead except from the back, a man that knew that the debt crisis was coming even when he voted against it a number of years ago, said he’s changed his ways but has never produced a plan.”

And Mr. Obama is an outlier in other respects, too. On Monday, in his address to the nation, he called for tax increases to be included in any deal. Even Senate Democrats’ plan no longer includes tax increases, focusing instead on spending cuts and a long-term debt increase.

Overall, Mr. Obama’s standing among voters on debt and deficits is weak, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Thursday, but slightly better than his congressional counterparts. Mr. Obama earns a 41 percent approval rating for his handling of the debt negotiations, compared with 31 percent for Mr. Boehner and 23 percent for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, the survey shows.

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