WASHINGTON -- Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and a handful of other House Democrats expressed deep frustration with President Barack Obama's leadership on Wednesday, saying he needs to do more to set the direction for the progressive movement.
Across the aisle, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has struggled to wrangle the various wings of his conference and pass budget measures through the lower chamber. Weiner told a group of journalists and bloggers on Capitol Hill that the Republican leader has a tough job of trying to hold "a coalition of crazies and completely crazies together."
But Republicans, Weiner said, have nonetheless long done a better job of making their case -- "smaller government, smaller deficits, lower taxes" -- to the public and each other. The Democratic Party remains unclear as to its core policy principles, Weiner said, and part of the problem is Obama.
"On our side is this weird squishy affirmative sense of what government should do and how we're opposed to this cut and that cut, rather than saying, 'Here are the things: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, environment and education. We're not cutting those. Those are off the table. That's non-negotiable,'" said Weiner, adding, "We haven't really done that very well. That's because the president fundamentally -- he's not a values guy. He wants to try to get the best deal for the American people and that's virtuous in its own right, but it becomes very difficult to make a strategy. There's been much greater global strategy thinking on [progressive media] outlets, frankly, than at 1600 Pennsylvania."
When asked by The Huffington Post whether what's happening at the state and local level with labor unions and budget battles would rise to the national stage, Weiner said that the leadership of national officials -- including the president -- will be essential to push the issue forward.
"We've spent a lot of time waiting for Godot when it comes to the Obama White House, and we kind of -- to some degree -- have to internalize the idea that, you know what? That's probably not the way to go," Weiner said. "We have to start initiating some of this."
Continued Weiner: "It is now pretty clear to me -- I'm not saying this is pejorative -- the president, he doesn't animate his day by saying, 'All right, what is the thing that has me fired up today? I'm going to out and try to move the ball on it.' He kind of sees his job as to take this calamitous noise that's going on on the left with people like us and on the right on Fox News, and his path to being a successful president, in his view, is taking that cacophony and trying to make good, level-headed, smart policy out of it and moving it incrementally down the road. That's nice. That's a good thing. We need that, obviously. The problem is there's no substitute for someone really leaning into these values questions. "
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was also at the gathering and later added, in reference to labor and budget battles, "The only regret I have is that the White House isn't fighting back against this. It's one thing to say, 'Well, I stand behind the workers -- how far behind, I don't know.' It's another thing to say, 'I stand with them and in front of them to protect their rights.' And I'm waiting for that to happen."
And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said he hoped his party would stand together on the fight to raise the debt ceiling later this year. Since many of the more hardline Republican freshmen will vote against it as a matter of course, DeFazio predicted, GOP leaders are likely to need the cooperation of Democrats and may be open to compromise.
"Republicans are going to have a hard time getting the votes," he said. "The first people who are going to get hit are the people on Wall Street, the bond houses and others, who are the biggest supporters of Republicans. So I think we have tremendous leverage on the debt limit. We should say there will not be a single Democratic vote on the debt limit until we put everything on the table. We're willing to look at any spending, but we also have to look at revenue."
DeFazio added that he hopes Obama stands with congressional Democrats rather than agreeing to a compromise with the Republicans, as he did a few months ago on the tax cuts.
"The problem is the negotiator-in-chief and where he'll end up, and whether we can put some steel in his spine," he said. "I assume he caved in on taxes in December because he was blackmailed on the treaty with Russia with nuclear weapons, which was absolutely critical. But that's pretty pathetic also."