Spin Cycle

06.07.12

Why Was Obama MIA in Wisconsin?

Spokesman defends president, zings Donald Trump and Fox News

While Scott Walker was beating back a drive to recall him as Wisconsin’s governor, President Obama was basically missing in action.

He did send a tweet on behalf of Walker’s Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, but never set foot in the state.

Video screenshot

Newsweek & The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz interviews White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

In a video interview with The Daily Beast, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the Obama team had worked hard to defeat Walker before Tuesday’s voting.

“The president used his e-mail list to try to turn the vote out, so he did what he could to be helpful,” he said. When I noted that a presidential visit would have had far more impact, he maintained that Obama “has a lot on his plate.”

Pfeiffer claimed to be unruffled that Bill Clinton has undercut Obama’s message twice in recent days, most recently with a CNBC interview Tuesday in which the former president said all the Bush tax cuts should be extended temporarily at year’s end. Obama wants to end the reduced rates for the most affluent taxpayers.

“His office put out a statement later that clarified exactly what he meant, which is that he and the president are in exactly the same place,” Pfeiffer said. He did not argue when I said both sides were trying to clean up the mess that Clinton made. “They’re not going to agree on everything, of course not,” he said, adding that Clinton remains a valuable campaign asset.

The spokesman offered a new response to Republican criticism that  Obama is spending too much time hanging out with Hollywood celebrities.

His name is Donald Trump. And the strategy includes a sharp swipe at Fox News.

I asked Pfeiffer about complaints that Obama’s dinners with the likes of George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker (who just made a campaign ad) conveyed the impression that the president is spending too time with the Hollywood gliteratti.

“There’s an irony there, since the Republican standard-bearer just spent a full day hanging around with the New York glitterati, Donald Trump”—who, he added, has been peddling “these conspiracy theories about the president’s birth.”

Interesting pivot, so I followed up by asking who Press Secretary Jay Carney had in mind when he accused certain media organizations of “aiding and abetting” the birther types. The answer: Fox News.

“There is no question that a lot of the myths around the president have been perpetuated by a lot of the opinion shows on Fox,” Pfeiffer told me. “Some of them originate on things like Fox & Friends.” But, he added, “there’s also a lot of responsible journalism that happens from the White House reporters who cover Fox every day.”

Has the administration complained about birther views being aired by guests on the network?

Pfeiffer turned diplomatic, saying that during his five years working for Obama “we’ve been in an ongoing conversation with Fox about what goes on the air and what doesn’t.”

He struck an optimistic note on negotiations with the GOP over stopping an automatic doubling of the interest rate on student loans, saying the two sides were “making progress” now that the other side has moved to “less odious proposals.” But Pfeiffer’s turn-the-other-cheek approach didn’t last long: “This is a Republican House that’s in the thrall of the Tea Party and the far right.”