Obama, Boehner Join Forces to Negotiate Fairways, Not Budget

Golf Diplomacy
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama watch as Ohio Governor John Kasich putts on the first hole of their golf game in Maryland. Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner made good on their commitment to bipartisan bonding through golf, teaming up yesterday to beat Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Governor John Kasich on the 18th hole.

Obama and Boehner won $2 each for their victory, according to a statement released by the White House with approval from Boehner’s office.

Aides declined to disclose individual scores on the par 72 course at Andrews Air Force Base. The release said only that “the foursome had a great time” and capped it off at the clubhouse with cold drinks on the patio, visiting with service members and watching some televised coverage of the U.S. Open being played in nearby Bethesda, Maryland.

The Democratic president, 49, and Boehner, 61, an Ohio Republican, are at odds over plans to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and whether Obama has the legal authority to continue the U.S. mission in Libya without formal approval from Congress. Aides said the golf game, months in the works, could help the leaders get to know one another better.

With the other bipartisan pairing of Biden and Kasich at their side, Obama and Boehner teed off at about 10 a.m. The course was kept open for other golfers.

Succession Security

With the president and the two leaders next in the line of succession -- the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives -- spending hours together outdoors, an advantage to playing golf at Andrews is that it can be well secured.

The Presidential Succession Act dictates that, in the event all three leaders were somehow incapacitated, next in line would be the president pro tempore of the Senate, Daniel K. Inouye, 86, followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 63.

Reporters were allowed to watch the group putt at the first hole. As they walked off the first hole Obama patted Boehner on the back. The game ended mid-afternoon.

In their day jobs, Obama wields more power than Boehner. On the course, Boehner had the clout. In its June issue, Golf Digest ranked Boehner the 43rd best golfer in Washington with a 7.9 handicap. That trumps Obama’s estimated 17 handicap, putting him 108th on Golf Digest’s list.

Kasich’s spokesman, Rob Nichols, said the governor is close to an 8 handicap. Golf Digest puts Biden’s handicap at 6.3, making him 29th on the list of the capital’s 150 best golfers.

Relaxed Style

Terry Holt, a Republican consultant and former Boehner aide, said on the course the House speaker is “very relaxed and easy-going.” Holt said Boehner also loves the strategy of the game and enjoys sharing tips on how to make tough putts.

Representative Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who has played rounds with Obama and Boehner, said Obama is a moderate risk-taker on the course, focused if he lands in a sand trap yet relaxed enough to chat off-topic.

During their game last summer at Martha’s Vineyard, Clyburn said Obama “took the time to get to know more about me. He asked a lot of questions about my parents and growing up.”

As for Obama and Boehner’s relationship, Clyburn said, “I don’t know that one golf match will do it but it’s a good beginning.”

Budget Background

While the golfers weren’t expected to talk substantively about policy, the budget talks were in the background.

Biden is leading the administration’s negotiations with Congress on cutting the deficit and raising the debt ceiling. He finished three days of talks last week with a group of lawmakers who are trying to shrink the government’s long-term deficit by at least $4 trillion over about a decade. The aim is to reach a an agreement in time for Congress to meet an Aug. 2 deadline for raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit.

Kasich led the House Budget Committee when Republicans took control of the House in 1995 and was a linchpin in negotiations with Democratic President Bill Clinton on cutting spending and the deficit. He won Ohio’s governorship last year by defeating a Democratic incumbent in a state that is critical to Obama’s 2012 re-election.

Presidents and Golf

Mike Trostel, curator and historian at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey, the archive for the sport’s ruling body in the U.S., said that since William Howard Taft in 1909 all but three of the men who have been president -- Hoover, Truman and Carter -- have played golf.

While Lyndon B. Johnson used golf to help round up support for the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Trostel said, “it seems like a lot of presidents play the game to get away from the pressures of the office.”

For other politicians, he said, “it seems like it’s the exact opposite reasons, to push through legislation or garner some votes for a bill they’re supporting.”

Trostel said in the Depression era, the New Deal program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an avid golfer until he was struck by polio at age 39, led to the development of more than 300 of the nation’s public courses.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE