Obama’s second term: Can he work with Congress? (+video)
Approval ratings for Congress may have plummeted, but President Obama will find he’s going to need to work with the lawmakers he spent much of his reelection campaign railing against.
When President Obama stands on the west steps of the Capitol to deliver his second inaugural address on Monday morning, his back will be turned to Congress, a legislative body whose public approval has crashed to near single digits.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Inside President Obama's White House
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While Mr. Obama came to Washington promising to change it, he spent much of the latter half of his first term as president in a running series of bitter battles with congressional Republicans. That inability to find common cause – whoever is more to blame – led to the least productive Congress in modern American history.
But if the president is going to pass legislative fixes for weighty issues like immigration reform, changes to the nation’s gun laws, and the nation’s troubled fiscal situation, he’s going to need to work with the body he spent much of his reelection campaign railing against.
Americans are feeling like a bit differently about their country this year than they were four years ago, Democratic pollster Peter Hart said recently, with lower expectations and a somber outlook for the next presidential term replacing the soaring ambitions of Inauguration Day 2009.
"If 2009 was all about hope,” Mr. Hart said, “2013 is about the ability to cope."
Hart may very well be speaking about the president, too.
Coping for Obama could mean dealing with the reality of divided government by focusing on issues of common ground between the president and Republicans, such as immigration reform and energy policy. And when Republicans balk, the president can use the Senate and his immense political operation to deliver public pressure on House Republicans.
Coping with divided government likely won’t be aided, as many pundits suggest, by a president who slaps more GOP backs or has more Republicans over to the White House for movies and cards. The president isn’t likely to win fans for his legislative agenda by trying to pal around with rock-ribbed Republicans with fundamentally different views about the role of government in American life.
“The president has been criticized by many people for his inability or unwillingness to spend a lot of time stroking members of Congress,” says Ross Baker, a congressional historian at Rutgers University who is writing a book on bipartisanship in the US Senate. “I think a lot of this is based upon the widely-accepted theory [that the] power of a presidency is the power to persuade – which is perfectly plausible, and it was certainly plausible in the 1950s.... The problem is, there are no persuadables" today.
But by focusing on issues of common ground with the GOP, Washington could generate some bipartisan successes in the next four years.
Immigration and Energy
For one, the president could team up with Republican moderates and much of the party’s leadership on immigration reform.
“We believe that immigration reform is different in that it has a past, present, and future of bipartisan support,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “What we’ve seen over the last two years is conservatives, moderates, and liberals want this president and this Congress to act, and that’s different from any other issue.”