If you didn’t catch the Washington Post’s story over the weekend about how President Obama intends to spend much more time this year and next year campaigning for Democrats to retake the House, give it a read. Here’s the gist of it:
Obama, fresh off his November reelection, began almost at once executing plans to win back the House in 2014, which he and his advisers believe will be crucial to the outcome of his second term and to his legacy as president. He is doing so by trying to articulate for the American electorate his own feelings — an exasperation with an opposition party that blocks even the most politically popular elements of his agenda.
Obama has committed to raising money for fellow Democrats, agreed to help recruit viable candidates, and launched a political nonprofit group dedicated to furthering his agenda and that of his congressional allies. The goal is to flip the Republican-held House back to Democratic control, allowing Obama to push forward with a progressive agenda on gun control, immigration, climate change and the economy during his final two years in office, according to congressional Democrats, strategists and others familiar with Obama’s thinking.
If you are a Republican in the House, you probably look at your wave victory in the 2010 midterms, largely reaffirmed in last November’s House elections, as a sign the American people don’t want the full-bore left-wing agenda Obama pursued at will in 2009 and 2010.
If you are Obama, you apparently look at these results as a pair of mistakes by the people that they need to go back and correct so you can get back to what you were doing (before they stopped you).
It is a rare president who persuades the electorate to give him more leverage during his seventh and eighth years in office: The Post reports that Bill Clinton is the only president since FDR to pick up seats during his second mid-term election. But even those seats weren’t nearly enough to give Clinton’s party a majority in the House or Senate — and the GOP had a narrower margin in the House going into the 1998 elections than they do heading into next year. Clinton also had an approval rating, the Post notes, that was 14 percentage points higher than Obama’s is today.
And Clinton, of course, worked with congressional Republicans early during his second term to balance the budget and had already secured such bipartisan legislation as the Defense of Marriage Act (not that all of Clinton’s supporters considered that a victory) and the 1996 welfare reform (even if Clinton vetoed the reform twice before relenting).
The closest Obama came to a bipartisan deal since Republicans took control of the House was the 2011 near-agreement on a budget deal during the debt-ceiling negotiations — an agreement which fell apart because Obama increased his demands for higher taxes at the last minute. That deal of course led to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration that took effect last Friday.
The Post uses sequestration to highlight the risks of his going for broke in 2014:
In his State of the Union address last month, Obama outlined an agenda that called for gun-control measures, immigration legislation, a hike in the minimum wage and a new focus on climate change, among other items that poll well with the public.
So far, though, most of the proposals have little traction in the Republican-controlled House. Obama’s decision to squarely blame the opposition for across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester has also generated little goodwill across the aisle.
That is among the risks of Obama’s strategy to define the differences between his agenda and the Republicans’: He could be seen as the kind of partisan politician he once deplored, and he is likely to have little to show for it in terms of legislative achievements.
Two former Obama White House officials used the same word — “hubris” — to describe what they viewed as the administration’s highly public and sometimes misleading turn against congressional Republicans in the days heading into the sequester.
Given the success of Obama’s campaign organization, Organizing for Action, in the past two presidential elections — and his determination, per the Post’s story, to put OFA to work for the 2014 elections — Republicans would be wise not to underestimate his chances. But convincing Americans that they need to take a left turn back to 2009-10, and remove the brakes from the federal government for a range of left-wing causes, will be a very tall task for even this president.
– By Kyle Wingfield