Obama’s fighting tone could buy room with left for a deal with right

With Republicans howling about partisanship, President Obama might have bought himself some wiggle room with Democrats to make a deal with the GOP.

The president’s aggressive and at times mocking tone during Wednesday’s press conference was met, predictably, with jeers from Republicans and cheers from Democrats, who have been pleading with Obama to fight harder for party principles.

Democratic strategists suggest there’s a method behind Obama’s tough talk, which left outraged Senate Republicans blocking the chamber’s business and left talks over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling mired in partisan squabbling.

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By comparing Republicans to his children and challenging them to “get it done,” Obama might have mollified Democrats to the point that he can negotiate more with Republicans on taxes, these political strategists say.

“If the president is in a veritable fight with the Republicans, the left will give him a lot more room to make a deal,” said one Democrat. “To be sure, the left likes this President Obama a lot more than the post-partisan brand.”

Others, however, say Democrats have been down this road with Obama too many times before — tough talk preceding a disappointing compromise — and fiery rhetoric won't cut it this time.

“I think the problem is that Obama’s words have lost much of their credibility,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University. “He has talked many times about issues near and dear to progressives' hearts, but he has rarely delivered on his pledges.”

Obama’s press conference on Wednesday was meant to send a signal to Democrats that he is with them on the issue of taxes. The president mentioned a tax break for corporate jets six times, and said it was hardly a radical position to argue it should be eliminated to close the deficit.

Senate Democrats sough to unify behind the president after the fiery performance, first through a White House meeting with Democratic leaders, and then by inviting the president to meet with the Senate Democratic Conference next week. Senate Democrats also canceled a planned recess next week.

Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said it was invigorating for many Democrats to hear the president forcefully explain his opposition to the Republicans' proposals.

“The Republican plan does not include shared sacrifice, and most Democrats want to be sure everyone participates in solving the deficit crisis,” Simmons said. “So they are pleased the president reinforced that yesterday.”

But the “bravo” on Wednesday from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) came after exasperation last weekend when Pelosi demanded that House Democrats have a seat at the negotiating table to protect Democratic interests.

Pelosi was stung earlier this year when she was on the sidelines of a deal over 2011 spending between Obama, Senate Democrats and House Republicans.

And a number of Democrats said that congressional Democrats are “still nervous” that Obama will cave to the Republicans, as they perceived him doing on healthcare and last year's lame-duck tax deal.

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Reinforcing that point, one Democrat said, “If they don't get taxes in this deal, then there won’t be taxes on the table for the next two years and you don’t solve the problem and you piss off all your allies.”

White House officials concede that negotiating room from the left might be an unintended consequence of the president's fighting stance, but say the primary goal was to put public pressure on Republicans that could humble them at the negotiating table.

If Republicans were feeling the pressure, though, they didn't show it.

“The president is sorely mistaken if he believes a bill to raise the debt ceiling and raise taxes would pass the House,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday. “The votes simply aren’t there — and they aren’t going to be there, because the American people know tax hikes destroy jobs. They also know Washington has been on a spending binge for many years, and they will only tolerate a debt-limit increase if we stop it.”