By EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE and CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN | 6/4/14 7:07 PM EDT Updated: 6/5/14 10:31 AM EDT

President Barack Obama’s Rose Garden appearance Saturday afternoon with Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s parents was an attempt to humanize the prisoner swap to deflect potential criticism of letting five Taliban leaders out of Guantánamo Bay, White House aides say.

It didn’t work.

White House aides were aware Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been tagged a deserter, and that they would be grilled over not keeping Congress in the loop. But they figured people would be most outraged over the national security implications.

The White House has been surprised by how much attention has remained on the questions about Bergdahl, from the circumstances of his disappearance to the wild beard his father grew while he was being held that’s even led to Bergdahl’s hometown canceling a celebration. All this, Obama aides say, is in their minds a proxy for the hatred toward the president.

The new approach: Frame the criticism as another example of Republicans complaining about something just because Obama was the one to do it.

“I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington,” Obama said Thursday at a news conference in Brussels, when asked if he was surprised by the backlash. “That’s par for the course.”

“I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction, this is not a political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land who they hadn’t seen in five years and they didn’t know if they would ever see again,” Obama said, adding that he wanted to “make sure the American people understand that this was someone’s kid .. and we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to get people back.”

The president said he will not apologize for the deal. “We saw an opportunity, we seized it,” he said. “And I make no apologies for it.”

White House aides and other liberal outlets are highlighting what they see as Republican hypocrisy, citing past quotes from GOP lawmakers calling for Bergdahl’s freedom.

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