Barbara Walters Lets Obamas Advance Myth Presidents Always Lose Congress In Midterms
Barbara Walters on Friday allowed Barack and Michelle Obama advance the myth that presidents always lose Congress during midterm elections.
This not surprisingly happened during a special "20/20" interview with the first family at the White House (video follows with transcript and commentary):
BARBARA WALTERS, HOST: Your husband has said that you are his chief advisor. So what did you say to him the night of November 2nd when he was, as he put it, "shellacked?"
MICHELLE OBAMA: I said, "Let's -- let's get to work." There’s a lot to do. Yeah, I think for, for us, it's always the focus on what we need to get done. The work ahead.
BARACK OBAMA: Now keep in mind, that election night I think she went to sleep. So --
WALTERS: Did you really?
BARACK OBAMA: She -- she goes to sleep early.
MICHELLE OBAMA: I go to bed early. I can't stay awake for the returns. I gotta get up, work out.
WALTERS: So you didn't care whether the Democrats took over the House?
MICHELLE OBAMA: I absolutely care, but I figured --
WALTERS: And you did not -- you had to find about it the next day.
MICHELLE OBAMA: And it was going to be whatever it was going to be the next day. So I did, I did go to sleep.
WALTERS: This man who was considered such a great communicator, what did he do wrong?
MICHELLE OBAMA: It's a tough time. I mean, my understanding is that, number one, every president in history has lost Congress at the midterms. Maybe that's overstating it, but it's happened for every president in my lifetime.
BARACK OBAMA: It's the norm.
MICHELLE OBAMA: It's the norm. But unemployment is high. Folks are hurting. There is nothing that I would look at in this year -- I wouldn't look at not giving this country healthcare. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't want to take back any of the investments that we’ve made in education. So I think from a policy perspective, he has done an outstanding job.
BARACK OBAMA: She is a little biased.
MICHELLE OBAMA: You know, what --
BARACK OBAMA: That's okay.
WALTERS: You’re lucky.
MICHELLE OBAMA: I am here watching him.
WALTERS: Yeah. How do you feel when he is attacked?
I guess Walters felt it wouldn't be appropriate to contradict the President and his wife on Thanksgiving. After all, presidents losing Congress during the midterms has not been at all "the norm" since Mrs. Obama was born in 1964.
Lyndon Johnson although losing some seats in both chambers during his only midterm elections in 1966 still maintained a filibuster-proof 64 seat majority in the Senate and 247 seats in the House.
The Republicans never controlled either chamber of Congress during Richard Nixon's one-plus terms. As such, he never lost Congress. Same for Gerald Ford.
Although Jimmy Carter lost some seats in the 1978 midterms, he still maintained significant majorities of 58 seats in the Senate and 277 in the House.
Ronald Reagan's midterm record was actually one that has been widely misrepresented in recent weeks.
He came into office in 1981 with Republicans controlling the Senate for the first time in many years. Although he lost seats in the House during the 1982 midterms, he ended up gaining two seats in the Senate. He didn't lose the Senate back to the Democrats until the 1986 midterms.
With this in mind, as George H. W. Bush never had control of either chamber, he didn't lose Congress in his only midterm elections in 1990.
For his part, Bill Clinton fared very poorly in both of his midterms, while George W. Bush did well in 2002 only to get clobbered in 2006.
Add it all up, and of the seven presidents since Michelle Obama was born, not including her husband, only Reagan, Clinton, and Bush 43 lost Congress during midterm elections. Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter didn't.
But it's Thanksgiving, so who's counting, right?