Dan Pfeiffer, White House Communications Director, Goes On Defensive In Progressive Lion's Den
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer found himself in the often uncomfortable position of defending President Obama's record to progressives at the annual Netroots Nation blogger conference, where he was pressed on gay rights, Afghanistan, Libya and the economy.
Making clear that some wounds caused by disagreements between progressives and the administration they helped put in office have yet to heal, the moderator of the discussion, Daily Kos blogger Kaili Joy Gray (who goes by the online name "Angry Mouse"), greeted Pfeiffer on stage by saying, "Thank you for joining us here with the professional left" -- a reference to then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' swipe at progressive critics last year.
Pfeiffer tried to address the White House's occasional frustration with its critics on the left -- who, Gray was quick to point out, are also the President's supporters -- conceding that the administration has not always responded appropriately.
"When Glenn Beck and John Boehner and Mitt Romney attack us, we expect that," said Pfeiffer. "Sometimes, when our friends attack us, we get frustrated. It doesn't mean it's the right thing to do to get frustrated. We want you to push us. We absolutely do. The President comes from a tradition of grassroots organizing, community organizing. A lot of the pushing that you guys are doing on a national level, he did on a local level in Chicago."
"Every once in awhile, when you're tired, you're out there and you're swinging away, you think you're doing the right thing under tough circumstances -- and the people who you care about most, attacking you, sometimes you get frustrated. It doesn't mean it's the right thing to do," he added.
Pfeiffer argued that there is still much work to be done -- work that won't be accomplished if a Republican wins the nomination in 2012, laying out the case for why progressives need to fight for Obama's reelection.
"There has been much that has been accomplished in the first 2 1/2 years, and as the President said the other night, the work is not done. There are more things we want to do," he said. "We can either work together to continue that work and finish the project we started in 2008, or we can be relegated back to the sidelines and see what a Republican president with potentially a Republican congressional majority in at least one country, will do to this country."
"We've had that experience. It started in 2000. We ended up with massive deficits, we ended up with a war in Iraq, we ended up with massive violations of people's civil liberties. We ended up with corporate interests like Wall Street running rampant through Washington. That's the choice there. This President is as committed to the ideals he ran on today as he was the day he stood in Springfield, Ill. in 2007. He has fought for them as hard as he could. Washington is a hard and frustrating place. We're doing it under tremendously challenging circumstances, and he's going to keep fighting for them. On some of the things that you care about and he cares about, I promise you he is as frustrated as you are that we haven't been able to get it done."
On Libya, Pfeiffer assured the audience that the United States' current involvement in the conflict there will not turn into a larger role, a point that the President has also promised. He also accused the House GOP leadership of trying to score political points against the White House on the issue.
"The way this is set up with our very limited role, where we are primarily providing refueling and surveillance for NATO forces. This is consistent from what we did -- there's a 60-day provision in the War Powers Act. We are not in violation of that," he said. "We continue to work with Congress, we continue to work with them to get them to support this. It is not helpful to our efforts when members in Congress -- particularly the Republican leadership -- play politics with this to show a divided coalition."
"This is an example of why it's politics -- In 1999, [Speaker John Boehner] thought that exactly what he's doing now was that the War Powers Act was unconstitutional, and evoking it in this way was not helpful to the troops."
Boehner warned Obama on Tuesday that he may be in violation of the War Powers Act by Sunday if he doesn't seek congressional authorization by then. Sunday marks 90 days of U.S. operations in Libya; per the War Powers Act, a president is required to obtain congressional approval for continued action by that date.
The White House has said -- and Pfeiffer reiterated on Thursday -- that the country is not at war, and therefore the President doesn't need authorization from Congress.
There were audible grunts of dissatisfaction from the audience on the topic of LGBT rights and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, as Gray asked when openly gay soldiers will finally stopped being kicked out of the military and pressed Pfeiffer on Obama's opposition to same-sex marriage.