Most modern presidents are unskilled at – and uninterested in – negotiating with Congress, according to political scientists. Recent events show President Obama is no exception.
As President Obama embarked on an effort to sell the nation his jobs bill, Democrats in Congress have been wondering where they fit in Obama's plans. Some Democrats have complained about the lack of communication with the White House.
“Congress gripes all the time” about its treatment from the White House, said George C. Edwards, distinguished professor of political science at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, in an interview with The Christian Post.
When the White House announced its jobs plan before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8, it was the first time Democrats in Congress heard details of the plan other than the details they read about from reporters who had a conference call with the president the night before.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told The Hill there has been a perceptible decline in communication with the White House since Rahm Emanuel left as Obama's Chief of Staff. “But there's very little direct contact, very little outreach on any of the major issues we've been dealing with in this Congress. I would say it's either indifference or irrelevance or whatever. I don't know what the point is.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) noted in an interview with The Hill, that the White House has not shown much interest in utilizing Democratic members as part of their team. When Obama traveled to give a speech at a bridge spanning Ohio and Kentucky, Brown's office was not contacted in advance about the visit.
“They could do better when they come to Ohio – I don't want to sound whiny about this, so I'm reluctant to say much here, but I can help them with location and setup and all that. ... I wish they consulted us more, but that's not how they run the White House,” Brown said.
For their part, the congressional Democrats do not seem in much of a rush to pass Obama's jobs bill. “We'll get to that,” is all Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to say about the bill to The Washington Post on Monday.
The grumbling among Democratic members of Congress is in stark contrast to the otherwise strong praise Obama has been receiving for “finally” becoming more combative with Republicans.
Obama's demonstrable lack of skill when it comes to working with Congress is not unique. It is a trait held in common with most modern presidents. In Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership (1997), Samuel Kernell argues that presidents tend to rely on the skills that got them elected. This usually means “going public,” or taking their case directly to American voters, rather than attempting to negotiate with Congress.
Edwards commented, “We select presidents based upon personal appeal, where they stand on the issues, and, of course, political party,” but, “rarely does it come down to which candidate has the most skill in negotiating with Congress.”
Still, Edwards said, there are other factors more important than having skilled leadership in the White House. Democrats, for instance, are not going to vote with Republicans simply because they are upset about not getting a phone call from the president.
Presidential leadership only makes a difference “at the margins,” according to Edwards. Though, Edwards admitted, sometimes with a really close vote, the margins can make a difference.