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Blogger Conference Call with White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer


I just got off a blogger conference call with White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. Here are my notes.

Pfeiffer: On election day 2010, nobody would have predicted the successes we’ve had in this lame duck session. Tax package. DADT repeal — that signing ceremony was a very emotional event for all involved. When the history is written of this admin, DADT repeal will be seen as a very significant moment. We also got the START Treaty ratified and the 911 firefighters bill. The latter was the right thing to do, had been caught up in senseless politics. All in all, it was a great month for the causes we all care about. We now have the wind at our backs as we head into next year.  The toughest fights on the most difficult issues are ahead of us, but we have some momentum going into next year.

David Dayen of FDL: Concern over continuing resolution ending in March, move to increase debt limit. Will the President commit to not signing any budget related legislation that hurts the economy by reducing aggregate demand?

Pfeiffer: The President was disappointed that we didn’t get the DREAM Act done. Also, the budget needs to be resolved, that’s a problem. We’re going to have some real debates on spending, the deficits. Republicans ran on cutting spending, reducing deficits, but never explained how they’d do it. Now, they’re going to have to explain how. For instance, are they going to cut education funding? That would be a disaster. This will be a big fight. Some in the Republican base are agitating for a fight on the debt limit. John Boehner said he didn’t want to make that a political issue, but we’ll see what happens. There will be some compromise, some significant confrontation on spending issues; we have very different philosophies on what’s best for the country. The President will draw clear lines in the sand, not let the Republicans take the country in wrong direction.

Question by Lee Ann Baldwin (sp?): What is the strategy for pursuing the DREAM Act next 2 years?

Pfeiffer: We’re going to be spending a lot of time thinking about that in the next few weeks. This is fundamentally the right thing to do for future of country, for these kids who are American in all parts of their life except where they were born. It wasn’t their choice to come to this country, they want to fight for our country, get an education and contribute to the country.  He’ll make the case publicly on it to the country.  We’ll engage in conversations with Democrats and Republicans, maybe some compromise, pair with other legislation? The President is VERY committed to it.

Amanda Terkel – HuffPo: There’s some feeling that the President didn’t engage his grassroots supporters enough on the DREAM Act. What’s the plan to reengage grassroots supporters?

Pfeiffer: Actually, OFA was actively involved on DREAM Act and DADT, activating activists around country to call in, write in, lobby wavering members. We’ll continue to do this. Change comes from the bottom up, as President Obama said on the campaign trail. With the DREAM Act, it will have to be bottom up. Opposition comes mainly from other party, but a few from our own party…

David Roberts – Grist: The President did not mention climate bill as one of his biggest regrets. He says he wants to engage Republicans on energy as soon as possible in new session. Preview?

Pfeiffer: The President was only referring to things that didn’t get done in the lame duck session. He has said on MANY occasions that comprehensive energy/climate legislation is something he worked to get done. He got it through the House, but not through the Senate unfortunately. The politics of this will be harder next year.  We’ll continue to work on it.  Maybe some things we can get done and continue to make progress, even if not everything in Waxman-Markey

Chad Lewiston Daily Kos: Any reaction to Robert Kuttner’s article in which he claimed that sources said there would be Social Security cuts put on the table in the State of the Union speech. Where would line be drawn with Social Security?

Pfeiffer: Not sure who Kuttner’s sources are, I’ve never seen him in White House economic meetings. The President believes we need to strengthen Social Security, preserve it for current and future beneficiaries. One party alone can’t solve this problem. President Obama is willing to engage in conversations with Republicans on this if they’re willing to be constructive, but he won’t do anything that weakens Social Security, he wants to strengthen it. Republicans want to either privatize it or do “only cuts, nothing else.” That’s obviously a non-starter, it’s an attempt to destroy the program by a million cuts.

ThinkProgress blogger: Issue of judges not getting confirmed. Sen. McConnell’s been exploiting Senate rules to have endless delays, we have to bargain away great circuit judges just to keep judiciary running. What is the President going to do to change that dynamic?  

Pfeiffer: This is a problem, Republicans have taken an unprecedented approach, requiring 60 votes for pretty much everyone, even totally non-controversial picks. It’s not just judges, it’s also all of our nominees, people sitting there more than a year. Some pet issue of this member or that member.  Next year this gets more challenging not less. The President will raise the profile of the issue.  The President is very concerned that we need a super-majority for everything we do, that this slows things down to a crawl, that it gives minority power to block almost anything. If it were not for huge numbers we had in the Senate the last 2 years, literally nothing would have gotten done.  Senate rules are a conversation for Senators to have among themselves. The President getting involved in a legislative branch matter would not be constructive.

Jesse Wendel (sp?): Question on real estate prices.

Pfeiffer: The housing market continues to be a major concern of the President’s. We have made some progress on foreclosures, homeowners under water, there’s still a lot of work to do. In terms of housing market writ large, the most important thing is to grow the economy and create additional demand. We are over-leveraged, excess inventory, the more the economy grows the better that will get. The President is very focused on this issue, looking for every opportunity to help homeowners. It’s a very vexing and challenging problem.


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