A second well-known Washington personality is claiming that he has been the subject of White House retaliation, following by less than one day the revelations provided by veteran journalist Bob Woodward of Watergate fame. Lanny Davis, a senior member of the Clinton administration – an a supporter of President Barack Obama – told morning radio listeners in the Washington DC metro area that he once received threats from White House officials over columns he had written in the Washington Post about President Obama. Davis said the call was “unfortunate.”
Lanny Davis said in an interview broadcast by the WMAL radio station that his Washington Post editor John Solomon once "received a phone call from a senior Obama White House official who didn't like some of my columns, even though I'm a supporter of Obama. I couldn't imagine why this call was made." The Clinton-era official said that Obama’s aide told Solomon, "that if he continued to run my columns, he would lose, or his reporters would lose their White House credentials."
Davis was querulous about the White House and does not know the identity of the caller in his case. He also does not know whether the aide was the one also involved in allegedly intimidating reporter Bob Woodward. At the time, neither he nor Solomon considered the threat as a serious one. Speaking about Solomon, Davis said "He didn't take it seriously, because he didn't think that could ever happen. He thought it was bluster," Davis said in the WMAL interview. "I called three senior people at the White House, and I said, 'I want this person to be told this can never happen again, and it's inappropriate.' I got a call back from someone who was in the White House saying it will never happen again."
The latest claim comes from Lanny Davis, who served as counsel to former President Bill Clinton and later went on to write a column for The Washington Times. In a radio interview on WMAL, Davis said that a "senior Obama White House official" once called his editor at the Times and said that if the paper continued to run his columns, "his reporters would lose their credentials."
Journalist Bob Wooded said in a February 27 television interview that a White House aide sent him an email suggesting he would "regret" his reporting on the budget sequester debate between Obama and Congressional Republicans. While the aide has not been identified, Fox News reports that it may have been National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling. While the tone of the email was mixed, and included an apology, it came after a February 23-24 Washington Post column in which Woodward claimed Obama was trying to re-write history. This was regarding not only whose idea the sequester was, but also how it would take effect. It was Obama, after all, who signed the sequester legislation into law several years ago as part of a deal to obtain federal funds needed for his programs.
Woodward wrote that the president now wants to “move the goalposts” by trying to replace the sequester with a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts, instead of solely spending cuts.
The Politico website reported late on February 27 that Woodward was going to claim White House threats. A White House aide denied the claim. “Of course no threat was intended," wrote the White House aide. "As Mr. Woodward noted, the email from the aide was sent to apologize for voices being raised in their previous conversation. The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more. And Mr. Woodward responded to this aide's email in a friendly manner."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on February 28 that Woodward and Obama's aides were merely engaged in “a factual disagreement that I think we stand by." Carney claimed that there was no threat and that the tone of the conversation between Woodward and the White House official was "respectful." Politico says that Woodward said was "yelled at" by a White House aide over his weekend column in the Washington Post. It was afterwards that he received a page-long email from apparently White House economics advisor Sperling that said: "I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. ... You're focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. ... I think you will regret staking out that claim."
There is speculation that tension is growing between the Obama White House and the award-winning journalist Woodward over it talking points in the sequester debate. Woodward has reported that the sequester idea actually originated at the White House. This week, Woodward called the Obama administration's handling of the cuts a form of "madness."
Former Obama adviser David Plouffe tweeted on February 27, "Watching Woodward last 2 days is like imagining my idol Mike Schmidt facing live pitching again. Perfection gained once is rarely repeated."
In his weekend column, Woodward wrote “The White House chief of staff at the time, Jack Lew, who had been budget director during the negotiations that set up the sequester in 2011, backed up the president two days later.” Woodward also wrote that the sequester came after GOP insistence in Congress for an automatic budget cut. The reporter touted his book “The Price of Politics” for showing that the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the “brainchild of Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors — probably the foremost experts on budget issues in the senior ranks of the federal government.” Lew is now the Secretary of the Treasury.
Still, Woodward’s critics are vociferous, especially in the media. Brian Beutler at TPM wrote that Woodward is “dead wrong” about the facts. Beutler quoted Woodward:
[T]he final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.
So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.
Obama and Democrats have always insisted that a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher taxes replace sequestration. It’s true that John Boehner wouldn’t agree to include new taxes in the enforcement mechanism itself, and thus that the enforcement mechanism he and Obama settled upon — sequestration — is composed exclusively of spending cuts. But the entire purpose of an enforcement mechanism is to make sure that the enforcement mechanism is never triggered. The key question is what action it was designed to compel. And on that score, the Budget Control Act is unambiguous.
Beutler wrote: “But in this case Woodward is just dead wrong. Obama and Democrats have always insisted that a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher taxes replace sequestration. It’s true that John Boehner wouldn’t agree to include new taxes in the enforcement mechanism itself, and thus that the enforcement mechanism he and Obama settled upon — sequestration — is composed exclusively of spending cuts. But the entire purpose of an enforcement mechanism is to make sure that the enforcement mechanism is never triggered. The key question is what action it was designed to compel. And on that score, the Budget Control Act is unambiguous.”
Beutler also pointed out essential language in the original bill:
“Unless a joint committee bill achieving an amount greater than $1,200,000,000,000 in deficit reduction as provided in section 401(b)(3)(B)(i)(II) of the Budget Control Act of 2011 is enacted by January 15, 2012, the discretionary spending limits listed in section 251(c) shall be revised, and discretionary appropriations and direct spending shall be reduced.”
Beutler said the key language in the bill is “deficit reduction”, rather than reduction in spending. He opined, “Key words: ‘deficit reduction.’ Not ‘spending cuts.’” He argued that Republicans should have insisted at the time with spending cuts only. Instead, what ultimately won the debate in 2012 was that a Super Committee was to be created to replace sequestration “with a different deficit reduction bill — tax increases or no.”
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