White House starts off '13 hitting hard on debt ceiling, guns, Hagel

Today, the White House made it abundantly clear that the Obama administration would come out swinging hard on what it considers the critical issues before Congress: extending the debt ceiling, gun control, and, of course, the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.

Press Secretary Jay Carney went on an early offensive against critics of Hagel, who had been formally tapped by the president for the Pentagon job shortly before President Obama’s top spokesman met reporters in the first White House briefing of 2013.

“It’s remarkable to hear some of the the critics,” said Carney, pointing out that the president was saying today what “those very same Members of Congress said of (former Nebraska) Sen. Hagel a few years ago.” He cited a quote from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), saying, “not too many years ago that Sen. Hagel would make ‘an excellent secretary of state'” and that the President now believes “he would make an excellent secretary of defense.”

With one reporter noting that neither Obama nor Hagel mentioned controversy over the former senator’s past comments about Israel when he was formally named earlier in the day, Carney insisted that Hagel “is a staunch supporter of Israel.” He also went as far as to predict that “when the Senate considers the totality of Sen. Hagel’s career, they’ll confirm him as the next secretary of defense.”

But it was on the debt ceiling and Republican threats to vote against lifting when the issue comes up that Carney hit hardest. Coming days after three of the 34 freshman House Republicans–Richard Hudson (N.C.), Steve Stockman (Texas), and Matt Salmon (Ariz.)–all made it clear to Human Events they would oppose lifting the debt ceiling unless the president proposed serious spending cuts and addressed problems with entitlements, it was obvious who Carney was hitting back at.

“The president believes Members of Congress were elected to serve and do no harm to this economy,” Carney said. “Flirting with default or allowing default would be a violation of those principles.” Likening the situation in 2011 when Congress lifted the debt ceiling at the last minute to “a hostage situation,” Carney said “it did great harm to the economy” and cited the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting, the U.S. credit rating downgraded by Standard and Poor’s, and consumer confidence falling.

Leaving no secret of what the White House thinks of lawmakers who threaten to vote against lifting the debt ceiling, Carney said: “That’s what you get when you play games with the full faith and credit of the United States.”

The president’s top spokesman also left no doubt that the published reports that the administration was making tougher gun control legislation a priority were accurate. When one reporter quoted Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) saying he wanted to deal only with the fiscal issues and not anything else such as guns, Carney quickly replied: “That’s not what the president thinks” and he went on to reiterate President Obama’s strong belief in tougher gun control legislation since the Newtown, Conn. shooting in December.