Summit News

Senator sees Obama making Nixon mistake

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. Senate Republican invoked the memory of the scandal-marred Nixon administration on Wednesday to urge U.S. President Barack Obama: “Don’t start an enemies list.”

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) (R) addresses reporters during the 2009 Reuters Washington Summit in Washington, October 21, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Senator Lamar Alexander told Reuters he sees the Obama White House adopting an attitude similar to that of the Richard Nixon White House four decades ago, that “everybody is against us and we are going to get them.”

Alexander cited as examples the Obama administration threatening to strip the insurance industry of its exemption of federal anti-trust laws, “taking names” of bondholders who opposed the auto bailout, its reported aim to “neuter the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” boycotting Fox News Network and “calling out” of others who oppose it.

“I’m suggesting to the president that he back up and start over,” said Alexander, a member of the Senate Republican leadership. “Don’t start an enemies list.”

“We want to work with you,” Alexander said.

Obama took office promising to reach out to Republicans in Congress, but they have lined up to oppose many initiatives, including his bid to overhaul healthcare.

Alexander, who was a 29-year-old aide in the Nixon White House in 1970, made the comments at the Reuters Washington Summit, a series of interviews of key Washington figures.

Republican Senator John McCain, later at the Reuters summit, advised Obama to tread carefully in a town where political enemies come with the territory.

“I think I’ve been around this town, in the view of many, too long. But long enough to see what the Greek god Hubris will do to administrations,” said McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Obama.

“And if I were advising the president, which obviously in the administration I’m not, I would encourage them to tread very carefully in making enemies intentionally,” he said. “I’ve found in Washington you pick up enough enemies just conducting your normal life without going out and picking some out.”

The Nixon White House compiled an “enemies list” of journalists, business and labor leaders as well as members of Congress and others.

Nixon was the only U.S. president to resign, forced to do so in August 1974 after a series of scandals, including “Watergate,” the bungled break-in at Democratic headquarters and botched cover-up of White House involvement.

“We’ve been down this road before and it won’t end well. An ‘enemies list’ only denigrates the presidency and the Republic itself,” Alexander said later in a speech in the Senate.

Alexander’s comments drew a nod of concurrence from Republican Senator Judd Gregg. Earlier this year, Gregg agreed to cross the political aisle and join the Obama administration as commerce secretary -- only to later back out.

Alexander said he was offering “friendly advice” to the White House and expressed hope it would accept it that way.

But as a senior Republican aide put it, “This is going to tick them off. But they have to realize, you can’t behave like this and expect bipartisan cooperation.”

Reporting by Thomas Ferraro, editing by Anthony Boadle