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Learning from experience

President Obama and Denis McDonough, his new White House chief of staff
President Obama and Denis McDonough, his new White House chief of staffGetty Images

Since President Obama won re-election, congressional Republicans have, at various times, complained about his cabinet choices, his policy agenda, his negotiating stances, and his inaugural address.

And as it turns out, his West Wing staffing choices aren't exactly drawing GOP praise, either.

President Barack Obama's most recent nominations and appointments show that he is assembling a muscular senior team of trusted allies to carry out his second-term plans, without concern for Republican sensitivities, some GOP officials say.

With his second-term appointments largely complete, the president has built a cadre of officials and aides that some say is more for combat than consensus -- to execute policies rooted in the Democratic ideals laid out in his inaugural speech last week.

By contrast, midway through his first term the president named William Daley as his chief of staff, choosing someone with ties to the corporate world in an overture to Republicans and business leaders.

As a matter of basic accuracy, the complaints have at least some merit. Last week, Obama named "Denis McDonough, a longtime deputy with no independent political base, whose primary purpose will be to put in place the president's policies" as his new chief of staff. There is a legitimate contrast -- two years ago this month, shortly after huge Republican gains in the 2010 midterms, Obama tapped Daley to serve as the White House chief of staff, a decision that seemed to designed to send a signal of cooperation to the right, which appreciated Daley's not-so-liberal background.

And how did congressional Republicans respond to the overture? By quickly using the olive branch as kindling -- in April 2011, GOP leaders nearly forced a government shutdown; in July 2011, Republicans instigated a debt-ceiling crisis, nearly forcing a default and global economic catastrophe; and in October 2011, they nearly forced another shutdown.

Daley was in the West Wing for all of 12 months, during which time congressional Republicans launched three separate crises and made no meaningful efforts to govern or legislate at all.

And so here we are, two years later, and unnamed GOP officials are complaining that the president is assembling a team designed "more for combat than consensus." My question to these Republicans is simple: what, exactly, did you expect?

Or more to the point, why in the world would Obama put together a team set on building consensus after the reaction the last time the president tried to do exactly that? Why try new overtures when the old ones failed to produce any constructive results?

Republicans created this environment; it's a little late for them to complain about its toxicity.