Clinton swoops in to save tax deal as Democrats balk at compromise

President Obama called in the big guns Friday afternoon to urge Democrats to support a tax-cut compromise with congressional Republicans.

Former President Clinton, still popular with his party and utilized by the White House on the campaign trail, made a surprise appearance at a press conference with Obama to say that he supports the president's deal that has raised ire among the left in the House.

Clinton, following a meeting in the Oval Office Friday afternoon, said that while the deal is far from perfect, lawmakers should approve the deal proposed by Obama to extend all income tax rates for two years in exchange for an extension in unemployment benefits and other middle-class tax breaks.

"On its own, I wouldn't support it because I don't think that my [personal] tax cut is the most economically efficient way to get the economy going again," Clinton said in remarks in the White House briefing room. "However, the agreement taken as a whole is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans."

Obama's move is extraordinary — essentially handing over control of the briefing room to the former Democratic president, with whom Obama had clashed when running for president against former first lady Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE. Obama then left the former president alone at the podium, allowing him to field questions from the press.

"In my opinion, I think this is a good deal, and I hope my fellow Democrats support it," Clinton later added.

The announcement by Clinton comes as counter-programming to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Congress must address the looming debt crisis MORE's (I-Vt.) filibuster on the Senate floor on Friday, in opposition to the tax deal Obama made with congressional Republicans earlier this week. It caps off a week of a strong PR offensive waged by the White House in favor of the tax deal, in which the endorsements by a variety of Democrats and local officials were distributed to the media. 

Clinton also gave his blessing to Obama's top foreign policy initiative while speaking to reporters.

"I think this START agreement is very important to the future of our national security," Clinton said in reference to the New START treaty awaiting ratification in the Senate.

Obama's has made ratification of the nuclear arms agreement with Russia his top foreign policy priority during a busy lame-duck session of Congress in which Republicans have insisted that tax cuts must come first.

Obama said that he'd had a "terrific meeting" with Clinton Friday in which he'd talked about the tax deal and the economy. The current president said he'd decided to give the former president an opportunity to speak because of Clinton's stewardship of a highly-performing economy during the 1990s.

Obama faces a similar political situation as Clinton had faced after the 1994 elections. Like Clinton, Obama is facing down the prospect of an angry Republican majority in the House next year and an empowered Republican conference in the Senate.

Neither president would comment on the nature of the advice Clinton gave privately to Obama.