Boehner goes on public relations blitz to counter Obama in deficit negotiations

Speaker John Boehner has launched a public-relations offensive, seeking to counter President Obama’s stepped-up use of the bully pulpit amid a stalemate on the fiscal cliff. 

The Ohio Republican appeared at a hastily arranged press conference on Friday, was interviewed on “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend and held a background briefing with reporters Monday to outline the GOP’s new debt plan that was sent to the White House.

The media blitz is aimed at maximizing Boehner’s negotiating power in the debt talks. His leverage has dwindled in the wake of Obama’s reelection victory and Democratic gains in Congress. 

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A recent CNN poll showed that Republicans would be blamed if policymakers fail to reach a deal by the end of this month. The survey found that 45 percent would find fault with the GOP, while 34 percent would point the finger at Obama. 

Boehner is most comfortable as a behind-the-scenes player, known for his deal-making skills and penchant for red wine and golf. But whether he likes it or not, Boehner is back to being the face of the Republican Party in the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss on Nov. 6 and the GOP’s failure to win control of the Senate.

Democrats and Republicans agree that they are miles apart on a bipartisan deal, acknowledging they are now trying to gain an edge ahead of the serious discussions later this month. Jockeying for that type of advantage has involved many press appearances.

On Friday, for example, the Speaker wasted little time in scrambling to hold a press conference following an appearance by Obama in Philadelphia. 

He appeared as a last-minute exclusive guest on “Fox News Sunday,” agreeing to tape the segment at the network’s Capitol Hill bureau.

Chris Wallace, the show’s host, noted on air how Boehner’s office had reached out to him, not the other way around. 

“Well, we had quite a day around here Friday, with talks to avoid the fiscal-cliff deadlock and everyone saying the other side is to blame; Treasury Secretary [Timothy] Geithner scheduled a round of interviews. But then, Friday afternoon, Speaker Boehner’s office called to say he wanted to come on ‘Fox News Sunday’ to tell his side of the story.”

Boehner’s multiple media events are geared at portraying the GOP as reasonable, something Obama’s campaign focused on throughout the 2012 presidential election.

During the Fox News interview, Boehner made a point of calling for a “balanced approach” — a staple of Obama’s stump speeches on taxes and spending. 

Obama, meanwhile, has stepped up his public-relations game after lamenting last summer that he didn’t communicate more effectively to the public during his first term. 

He has held a flurry of press events, and launched the #my2K fiscal cliff campaign, which is directed at putting pressure on Republicans to extend tax rates for families making $250,000 or less annually. 

Boehner knows that going up against the White House’s messaging operation is challenging, though his actions suggest he will not let Obama have the stage to himself.

Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said Boehner is the best positioned Republican to make the case that his party is “negotiating in good faith … willing to compromise on taxes and that they are trying to reach an agreement with the White House, but that the White House is being obstructionist.” 

Pitney added that “not everybody’s going to buy that interpretation of events, but he’s doing the best he can to lay out the Republican case.” 

A savvy legislator, Boehner has declined to show his hand to the media. 

He often tells reporters that he’s not going to “negotiate with myself” or “I’m not going to debate this or negotiate with you.” 

Boehner, by and large, sticks to his talking points, touting the $800 billion in tax revenue he has put on the table without providing details on how he gets to that figure.

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