Gibbs takes on GOP leader over remarks about defeating Obama

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) political shots at President Obama should stop after Election Day unless McConnell is running for president.

Seizing on McConnell’s remarks this week about making Obama a one-term president, Gibbs said Obama will continue to reach out to Republicans even as GOP leaders signal they will bring gridlock to Washington if they win congressional majorities.

Outlining the White House message in coming days, Gibbs said Obama “will reach out as he did and try as best as he can to work with the Republican Party.”

In separate interviews with National Journal this week, Obama said he would try to work with Republicans after the midterm election, while McConnell said the most important thing for Republicans was to defeat Obama in 2012.

Gibbs was particularly put off by McConnell’s assertion that stimulus spending ensured Obama will be a one-term president, saying that while Obama is talking about cooperation, McConnell is talking about political warfare.

“It’s a deeply disappointing message,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said there is “time for political campaigning now, and in two years there will be time for a presidential campaign.”

“Maybe Sen. McConnell is interested in running for president,” Gibbs said.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said the White House was targeting McConnell to avoid talking about the economy.

“[It’s] pretty clear that they don’t want to talk about their failed economic policies,” Stewart said. “And no, much to their frustration at 1600 [Pennsylvania Ave.], he’s not running for president.”

In the last few weeks, Obama and his aides have been laying the groundwork for a repeat of their 2008 campaign message of a post-partisan administration, despite two years of intense partisanship since Obama has been in office.

In repeated interviews, Obama, Gibbs and senior adviser David Axelrod have made it clear that the president wants to be able to focus on areas of “common ground” over the next two years.

Obama told The New York Times that he is hopeful next year will yield more bipartisanship because hot-button ideological issues like healthcare and financial regulatory reform won’t be on the table. 

The president said in the interview that even if Democrats hold both houses, “[T]he rhythms of the next two years would inevitably be different from the rhythms of the first two years; first of all because the two biggest legislative battles that we took on — healthcare and financial regulatory reform — are inherently complicated, contentious, unwieldy, hard to explain to the public, take up a lot of oxygen and generate fierce opposition from very well-funded special interests, whether it’s the insurance lobby, the banking lobby.

“The kinds of issues that we’re going to be working on legislatively going forward, I think there’s more potential for bipartisan cooperation because they’re less ideologically divisive,” Obama said.

But Republicans say they’ve heard Obama’s bipartisan song and dance before.

“That’s what they are saying now, but on what? Will he reduce spending; will he give up his burning desire to raise taxes on small businesses?” Stewart said. “Remember, he said all that at the State of the Union and Sen. McConnell immediately agreed with the items the president laid out: free trade agreements, clean coal, nuclear, offshore.

“We’re still ready to work with him on those.”

The White House has signaled that it has little intention of refraining from blaming the GOP for the economic woes that have saddled Obama’s presidency.

“We don’t want to walk away from that. That’s what got us into this mess,” Gibbs said Tuesday. “I think the president will continue to talk about it. It’s how we got where we are.”

This story was posted at 3:47 p.m. and updated at 6:57 p.m.