Can Obama's 'Year of Action' revive his presidency?

Republicans in Congress have stymied much of President Obama's agenda. So he's declared a "Year of Action" with a string of presidential executive orders he hopes will help his poll numbers.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Barack Obama answers a question during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Friday at the White House in Washington.

Touting his “Year of Action,” President Obama is doing everything he can to show that he’s not a lame duck with sorry poll numbers, rendered ineffective by a Congress that may well turn even more Republican in this year’s elections – all of which is more or less the case these days.

In his radio/Internet address Saturday, Obama ticked off examples of the “more than 20” executive actions he’s taken this year to improve Americans’ economic circumstances:

“I acted to raise more workers’ wages by requiring that workers on new federal contracts earn a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour ….  I acted to encourage more pay transparency and strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws, so that more women have the tools they need to earn fair pay…. I’ve launched new hubs to help attract more high-tech manufacturing jobs to America – and ordered a reform of job training programs to make sure more Americans can earn the skills that employers need right now.  I’ve brought together business leaders to help us connect more classrooms to high-speed internet, and give more of the long-term unemployed a better shot at finding a job.”

As Friday’s jobs figures show, it’s those long-term unemployed who remain a persistent problem, undercutting an unemployment rate that’s inched down to 6.3 percent, the lowest it’s been since September 2008, before Obama took office.

As the Monitor’s Mark Trumbull points out, “The decline in unemployment stemmed from adults leaving the workforce rather than finding new jobs.”

A  Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll conducted 4/26-5/1 shows – at best – mediocre results for Obama. (Sample size was 850 adults with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.)

On “presidential leadership,” Obama gets a favorable/unfavorable rating of 43-50 percent. Female, younger, and Black/Hispanic voters are more inclined to view Obama favorably with older, white men less so.

On how well Obama is doing his job as president, the approve/disapprove split is 42-49 percent.

On jobs, budget, and the economy, just 38 percent say Obama’s performance has been “excellent” or “good.” Asked if they think the economy is improving or not improving, respondents are evenly divided.

Other recent polls are similarly discouraging for the White House, including a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week.

“Obama’s approval rating fell to 41 percent, down from 46 percent through the first three months of the year and the lowest of his presidency in Post-ABC News polls,” the Washington Post reported. “Just 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 37 percent approve of how he is handling the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and 34 percent approve of his handling of the situation involving Ukraine and Russia.”

Understandably, Obama in his Saturday address takes a whack at Congress: “So far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every serious idea to create jobs and strengthen the middle class. They’ve said ‘no’ to raising the minimum wage, ‘no’ to equal pay for equal work, and ‘no’ to restoring the unemployment insurance they let expire for more than two million Americans looking for a new job.”

“We could do a lot more if Republicans in Congress were less interested in stacking the deck in favor of those at the top, and more interested in growing the economy for everybody,” Obama said. “They’ve now voted more than 50 times to take apart the Affordable Care Act – imagine if they voted 50 times on serious jobs bills.”

If anything, the relationship between Obama and Congress – especially the Republican-led House – is deteriorating, particularly over the Benghazi affair with Republicans charging that the White House white-washed, if not covered up, it’s response to the killing of the US ambassador and other Americans during an attack on US facilities in Libya.

On Friday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a subpoena intended to force Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before the panel on Benghazi.

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner says he'll establish a special committee to investigate the Benghazi attack.

In such an atmosphere, Obama’s only recourse to advancing his agenda may be his “Year of Action” executive orders.

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