In June 3rd AP radio news, I heard Stephanie Cutter, Deputy Manager of the Obama re-election campaign, say:

Republicans in Congress have refused to approve measures that will improve job creation because they want the President to fail. They need to get off their hands and stop rooting for failure.

I’m not clear about what the last line, “They need to get off their hands and stop rooting for failure,” means. From (or to) what Republicans need to get off their hands? What does "get off one’s hand" mean? What does "root for failure" mean?

Would you explain the last line in plain English?

  • 1
    Most of the answers have pointed out that in US and British English, "rooting" as a verb can mean to cheer and encourage something. It may be worth mentioning that "rooting" has a very different meaning in Australian English.
    – user11752
    Jun 7, 2012 at 14:56
  • 1
    @MarkBannister Actually, "root" in British English doesn't generally mean "cheer" etc. That's an American term. British "rooting" usually means shallow digging, like a pig might do rooting for truffles. Of course, British English is becoming more Americanised.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 7, 2012 at 15:40
  • @AndrewLeach: "Rooting for" does generally mean cheering / encouraging in British English (when used) - "rooting" without the "for" may have other meanings.
    – user11752
    Jun 7, 2012 at 15:51
  • Andrew is right. It doesn't generally mean to cheer, in British English. That meaning is something from American English. See: urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=rooting I haven't heard it used by British people. If it is, then it's certainly not used by more than a few.
    – Tristan
    Sep 27, 2012 at 18:04

4 Answers 4


British English would use "stop sitting on their hands," which is perhaps more understandable: if you're sitting on your hands, you can't do anything.

Root for means "to cheer and encourage someone or something". Cutter is accusing Republicans of supporting a measure which will lead to failure of the President's initiatives.

"They need to do something positive and support our initiatives rather than those which will fail."

  • Not, I think, 'those which will fail', but 'work for the failure of our initiatives'. Jun 7, 2012 at 11:06
  • @Andrew Leach. My understanding of ‘root’ was only associated with a part of a plant growing down into the earth. Actually Cambridge online dictionary only provides definition of ‘root’ as a noun. Oxford Dictionary provides 4 definitions as a verb but not pertinent to this case. But I found the definition for ‘root for sb/sth’ as an idiom meaning (informal) 'to support or encourage sb in a sports competition or when they are in a difficult situation, which is in line with all of your answers. I would be totally ignorant of that usage as ever, if I didn’t post this question and get your answer. Jun 7, 2012 at 12:10

In an election year, it's harder to get reelected when the economy isn't doing well. Therefore, when the ruling party is trying to pass a measure designed to help an ailing economy, one strategic tactic might be for the opposition party to stonewall that initiative, in hopes that the bad economy lingers, which could help them gain some seats in the upcoming election.

That's essentially what Ms. Cutter is accusing the Republicans of doing: sitting on their hands (i.e., doing nothing), and rooting for failure (i.e., hoping that domestic problems linger long enough to affect the upcoming election in their favor).

We don't talk politics on the EL&U board, so I won't comment on whether or not I think her claims are accurate, or if they fall under the category of the counter-tactic, which is to accuse the minority party of stonewalling for political expedience when in fact they are simply opposing what they genuinely believe is bad legislation.


Others have pointed out the connection with sitting on one's hands. However, get off one's hands is a rather unusual phrase and I haven't ever heard it before. I would suggest that this may be a mixed metaphor, and the speaker is also thinking of get off your ass (or get off your butt), which essentially means "Stop being lazy! Get to work!"

Of course, in both cases, the meaning is that the Republicans are not doing anything and they should start doing something. Sitting on their hands would suggest that they are consciously choosing not to act, because they prefer what will happen if they don't (in this case, the President's failure). Sitting on their ass has the connotation that their inaction is due to laziness rather than a conscious decision; it is more insulting.

As get off your ass would be too rude for a public figure to use when speaking on the record, Ms. Cutter may have intentionally replaced ass by hands, thinking of sitting on your hands, but hoping that the more insulting phrase would be picked up by listeners.

  • 1
    This sounds like a good explanation for they way she mangled the expression.
    – JeffSahol
    Jun 7, 2012 at 15:19

Those who ‘sit on their hands’ do nothing, so the writer is saying that the Republicans in Congress need to be more active in approving measures that will improve job creation. Root means ‘cheer’ or otherwise express support.

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