Obama's relationship with Democrats wasn't always much better. Woodward recounts an episode early in his presidency when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were hammering out final details of the stimulus bill.
Obama phoned in to deliver a "high-minded message," he writes. Obama went on so long that Pelosi "reached over and pressed the mute button on her phone," so they could continue to work without the president hearing that they weren't paying attention.
As debt negotiations progressed, Democrats complained of being out of the loop, not knowing where the White House stood on major points. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is described as having a "growing feeling of incredulity" as negotiations meandered.
"The administration didn't seem to have a strategy. It was unbelievable. There didn't seem to be any core principles," Woodward writes in describing Van Hollen's thinking.
Larry Summers, a top economic adviser to Obama who also served as Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, identified a key distinction that he said impacted budget and spending talks.
"Obama doesn't really have the joy of the game. Clinton basically loved negotiating with a bunch of pols, about anything," Summers said. "Whereas, Obama, he really didn't like these guys."
Summers said that Obama's "excessive pragmatism" was a problem. "I don't think anybody has a sense of his deep feelings about things." Summers said. "I don't think anybody has a sense of his deep feelings about people. I don't think people have a sense of his deep feelings around the public philosophy." …
Woodward portrays a president who remained a supreme believer in his own powers of persuasion, even as he faltered in efforts to coax congressional leaders in both parties toward compromise. Boehner told Woodward that at one point, when Boehner voiced concern about passing the deal they were working out, the president reached out and touched his forearm.
"John, I've got great confidence in my ability to sway the American people," Boehner quotes the president as having told him.
But after the breakthrough agreement fell apart, Boehner's "Plan B" would ultimately exclude the president from most of the key negotiations. The president was "voted off the island," in Woodward's phrase, even by members of his own party, as congressional leaders patched together an eleventh hour framework to avoid default.
Frustration over the lack of clear White House planning was voiced to Obama's face at one point, with a Democratic congressional staffer taking the extraordinary step of confronting the president in the Oval Office.
With the nation facing the very real possibility of defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history, David Krone, the chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told the president directly that he couldn't simply reject the only option left to Congress.
"It is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B," Krone said, according to Woodward.
My vague recollection is that I didn't write much about the debt ceiling crisis in 2011 because the whole topic sounded dreary and depressing and I'd rather think about other stuff. So, I can totally sympathize with Obama. I would have botched the whole thing up at least as badly as he did for pretty much the same personality-based reasons. I don't like politicians, I don't like negotiating, I don't like face-to-face politicking, I'd rather, say, walk to the bookstore by myself than call up a whole bunch of conniving people and try to bend them to my will.
Of course, I haven't wanted to be President since I was a child, either.