President Obama should have realized he was negotiating a debt deal with Republicans who want to defeat him, a key Democrat said Friday.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), the vice chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, said he partly agrees with criticism that Obama showed weakness in the talks by agreeing to a deal that cuts spending but includes no new revenue to lower the deficit from new taxes.
"At one level I agree," Himes said in response to a question on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" about an op-ed that said many liberal Democrats see Obama as "weak" for not being more forceful in the talks.
"I think when you're dealing with people who are not negotiating in good faith, you probably don't start with that proposition," Himes added. "Now, I wasn't in the room, so I'm going to say that a little bit humbly."
But while Himes acknowledged that the last few months have been trying, he said Obama has won several successes in his first 30 months in office, including passage of the healthcare law and tobacco regulation.
"You can't look at this presidency as a progressive and say that it's been a failure," he said.
Himes, a sophomore member of Congress and co-chairman of the New Democrat Coalition's Financial Services Task Force, defended his vote for the debt-ceiling deal as a way to avoid a government default, and also defended the so-called "supercommittee" created to look for more cuts.
He said he understands the "discomfort" with assigning such a large task to a committee of 12 members, but that it might be the best way forward based on how damaging Washington's effort to reach a deal was to market psychology.
"It is impossible to deny that the process of negotiating the deal that was struck a week ago harmed our economy," he said. "You know, the rhetoric, the misinformation, the anger, the use of the debt ceiling as a tool was profoundly irresponsible.
"So this may be one of those instances where crafting a deal, you know, with a smaller group of people who are less inclined to run right out and get on the cable news shows, may be the way you make some of these tough decisions," he added. "I'm cautiously optimistic about the composition of the committee."
He also criticized Standard & Poor's for downgrading the country's credit rating, saying it seemed to focus on politics more than the ability of the U.S. to repay its debt. "Their statement was actually not about our ability to service our debt, it was a statement about our political system," Himes said.