President Obama gave a speech at George Washington University in April of 2011 in which he totally eviscerated Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), unaware that Ryan was in the audience at the time.
The intention of the speech was Ryan’s budget plan. William Daley, Obama’s Chief of Staff at the time, told PBS’s Frontline that “the decision was made that we had to frame this in a very aggressive way about what we wanted and what the president believed in.”
However, as Frontline reported: “in their haste to put the event together, the White House staff made a crucial error. As they gathered Washington’s A-list to hear the speech, someone they were not expecting showed up. Paul Ryan was given a front row seat.”
Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker recalled: “So In Paul Ryan’s mind — and he told me this — he goes to the George Washington University speech thinking, ‘Maybe this is the moment where after we’ve laid out our negotiating positions, we start to come together a little bit.’ That’s what he thinks he’s stepping into.”
As Frontline related in a special aired in 2013:
Though he never mentioned Ryan by name, the speech “could have been titled ‘What’s Wrong with the Ryan Plan,’” as The Wall Street Journal noted. “I mean, Jesus, it was heavy,” remembers former Sen. Alan Simpson. “It was tough and it was nasty.”
Speaking directly to the plan, the president stated: “This is a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit,” adding: “Many are someone’s grandparents who wouldn’t be able afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s Syndrome. Some are kids with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.”
The president went on to say:
This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That’s not a vision of the America I know.
Robert Draper of The New York Times, recalled: “It was an astonishing swipe at a congressman who happened to be sitting right there in audience.”
Alan Simpson who served as the Republican Senator for Wyoming from 1979 to 1997 told Frontline:
I mean, Jesus, it was heavy. He didn’t use Ryan’s name, he just made fun of anyone who could propose anything like what he had read recently as a proposal presented to the House Republican leadership that did this to old people and— oh, on and on! It was tough. And it was nasty.
Paul Ryan gets up after it’s all over, and he makes a quick exit. According to Alan Simpson, “Sperling jumped up like he’d been sitting in an electric chair, rushed out to mollify him.”
Sperling told Frontline: “All I was trying to do was to let him know that—that we did not know they were coming. His response was that he felt the president had poisoned the well.
Dan Balz of The Washington Post related that: “Ryan was deeply offended by having been put into that position, and his Republican friends were even more angry.”
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Nasty or not, it’s refreshing to actually hear the President’s honest opinion of these things, politics be damned.
Here’s a short clip with what happened. Watch: