Obama on GOP Turf

President Obama’s appearance before a House Republican retreat today is drawing superlatives like “the most compelling political television…ever” (Ezra Klein) and “Public needs to see this if they’ll ever trust Washington again.” (Chuck Todd).

Catching it just as headed for the off (late), I can’t help but agree (although “ever” we will see after tonight’s “20/20”). I intended to turn it on, but what I didn’t expect was a lengthy Q&A where it was possible to have a discussion about the intricacies of a policy point. Obama held his own, calling out Republicans for demonizing his health care plans as if they were a “Bolshevik plot.” But more importantly is that he outlined how solutions to an issue — like plans to reign in Medicare spending — are so prone to warp speed political attack, or as he said, “scaring the dickens out of our seniors.” To prove his point, he explained how easy it will be for Democrats to demonize a current Republican proposal on Medicare spending, effectively scuttling further debate.

The House Republicans were civil, but more importantly they undoubtedly benefited from being able to be seen as more than the “party of no,” with no ideas, and they expressed their frustrations as such repeatedly to the president and he acknowledged that he had read their bills throughout the past year. And one member expressed disappointment that the backroom negotiations on health care were not allowed to be televised, something Obama has acknowledged was a mistake.

Luckily, gratefully, they allowed cameras into today’s exchange with the president, although House members were only heard, not seen, asking the questions.

The takeaway was that there was less grandstanding that I expected, no jeers, and some degree of respect. If this is a restart on changing the tone in Washington, it’s a step in the right direction. Let’s just hope it’s not the only one. Excerpt below, and the full C-SPAN feed is here.

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