White House aides have repeatedly dismissed so-called “Hallmark holidays” in the past. But with the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden on Tuesday, President Obama is attempting to underline the achievement—and with something of an exclamation point.
In recent days, in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary, Team Obama is turning up the volume on one of the crowning moments of the president’s first term, mentioning bin Laden more by name in policy speeches and fundraising pitches.
And Obama sat down with NBC’s Brian Williams in the White House Situation Room--a place journalists rarely, if ever, conduct interviews—to discuss the successful mission.
The push presents a bit of a contrast from the handling of the historic mission last year when Obama said, “we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies…we don’t need to spike the football.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama used the NBC interview—taped in the West Wing on Thursday-- to do what he has done “many times before over the course of the last year,” to talk about “the success of that mission.”
“There is…a lot of interest in that mission, how the decision was made to carry out that mission, and what activities were involved in preparing our courageous men and women in uniform to undertake that mission,” Earnest said.
Republicans—from the presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney to his last rival John McCainJohn McCainSunday shows preview: Trump sits down with Fox McCain: Tillerson ties to Putin a 'matter of concern' Second Dem calls for probe into Russian election involvement MORE and former aides to George W. Bush—accused Obama of chest-thumping while attempting to politicize the event.
“The killing of Osama bin Laden was a momentous day for all Americans and the world, and Governor Romney congratulated the military, our intelligence agencies, and the president,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “It’s sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to try and distract voters’ attention from the failures of his administration."
Seizing on the Obama campaign spot, McCain accused Obama of being hypocritical. “This is the same president who once criticized Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump must not pull a bait-and-switch on American workers Jewish groups divided over Hanukkah party at Trump hotel Colo. AG: Electoral College lawsuit could cause 'chaos' MORE for invoking bin Laden to “score political points,” he said. “Shame on Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump to attend Army-Navy football game Obama urges Congress not to repeal ObamaCare President Obama should curb mass incarceration with clemency MORE for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad.”
Tony Fratto, who served as deputy press secretary to Bush, called the Obama push, “pretty unseemly.”
“It crosses a line and it’s tacky to see him use it in such a blatantly political way,” Fratto said in an interview.
Fratto—who said he had never heard of anyone using the Situation Room for an interview backdrop-- said the appropriate way to approach the anniversary would have been to visit an agency, pen an op-ed in a newspaper or have other administration officials do the talking.
“There are a lot of things you can do without pointing the camera at you,” he said.
But White House aides maintain that they’ve handled the situation appropriately.
“I think the way that we’ve handled it represents exactly the balance we need to strike,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters this week.
On Friday, when reporters pointed out that Obama didn't mark the anniversary of healthcare reform this year with the same enthusiasm and that aides dismissed it as a "Hallmark holiday", Earnest disagreed.
"Of course he did," Earnest told reporters on Air Force One, as Obama traveled to Georgia to sign an executive order that would prevent colleges from taking advantage of veterans who received military education benefits. "The administration talked about it quite a bit. The president put out a video. I know the campaign talked about it a lot."
Those close to Obama say the bin Laden raid is a testament to how the president was able to follow through on one of his campaign promises and one that has, as one aide put it, “historical consequences.”
“It reflects the success of his policies,” one senior administration official said. “But he’s the first person who will give the lion's share of the credit to the military and other government officials” who were involved in the lead-up.
In recent days, both Obama and Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWhat gun groups want from Trump Senate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown Senate advances funding measure, avoiding shutdown MORE have spoken about the bin Laden mission repeatedly. In a speech this week, Biden used the mission to imply that Romney wouldn’t have made the same decision, seizing on comments he made in 2008 where he said it wasn’t worth “moving heaven and earth” to catch bin Laden.
“Thanks to President Obama, bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” Biden said in New York on Thursday. “You have to ask yourself, if Governor Romney had been president, could he have used the same slogan—in reverse?”
Aides say both Obama and Biden will continue to reference the success of the bin Laden operation.
And Democratic strategists say they should.
“It’s fair play,” said strategist Jamal Simmons. “If the other side had this kind of victory, they would have taken credit for it."
“The White House has a right to be proud,” added Steve Elmendorf, the Washington lobbyist who served as deputy campaign manager for John KerryJohn KerryDepleted Dems look to Senate for 2020 nominee Voters want to drain the swamp? They can start with Louisiana GOP As Congress adjusts to Trump, Iran put under the pressure it deserves MORE's presidential bid in 2004. “It’s an important achievement and it matters a lot.”