Reporting from Washington — The White House on Tuesday forcefully responded to comments from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who suggested in an interview that his party's top goal in the new Congress would be ensuring President Obama is not reelected in 2012.
Speaking with National Journal magazine, McConnell discussed mistakes the GOP made after its 1994 election sweep, when it suffered "from some degree of hubris" and acted "as if the president was irrelevant and we would roll over him."
If Republicans are to enjoy a midterm triumph in 2010 as they did in 1994, McConnell said his party should say: "Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job."
Asked what that "job" was, McConnell explained that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
That remark drew the ire of several White House officials. At his daily briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the last thing voters will want after this hard-fought campaign is more non-stop politics in Washington.
"There's time for a political campaign now, and there will be time in two years for a presidential campaign. But in the days, in the weeks, in the months after this campaign, the message that voters are going to send and the message that we as elected officials should take is that of working together," he said.
Gibbs noted that in an interview with the same publication, Obama talked about wanting to work cooperatively with Republicans next year.
"I can assure you that when the political and election season has passed and we get … back into the governing of this country, that this is a president that will reach out to, as he did, and try as best as he can to work with the Republican Party," Gibbs said.
In an interview with MSNBC, senior White House advisor David Axelrod linked McConnell's comment to unspecified statements from other Republicans, that he said were in support of gridlock in Congress.
"I don't think that's what the American people are voting for," he said.
McConnell did say that if Obama were to do "a Clintonian back flip, if he's willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it's not inappropriate for us to do business with him."
White House advisors have not exactly been ignoring the implications for Obama's reelection of this 2010 vote. Conventional wisdom in Washington is that the White House believes his chances would be boosted by having a Republican Congress to spar with.
A spokesman for the Kentucky senator downplayed the controversy, saying it was hardly surprising that a Republican leader would want a Republican to be president.
"Ending the Obama administration's liberal agenda as soon as possible is Sen. McConnell's top political priority," said Don Stewart. "Americans have been speaking out, they want us to stand up for them and fight the wasteful Washington spending, stop the massive growth of the debt, create a better environment for job growth and repeal and replace the health spending bill, and that's Sen. McConnell's focus for the next two years."