Obama’s Strategy: Stay in the Spotlight

Immediately following the midterm elections President Obama promised to “find ways to work together” with Congress, citing the need to “take care of business.” That theme carried through to earlier this week when Obama sat down with Republican leadership to clear the air and set the tone for the coming year.

Speaking briefly with reporters, Obama said lawmakers must “work as a team” in order to “build on this [economic] progress.” The president acknowledged, “there are disagreements”, but stressed that “there are also areas where we can agree, and that’s where we’re going to be focused.”

Sadly, it didn’t take long to discover the emptiness of President Obama’s promises of bipartisanship. Just a day later, in a closed-door session with Senate Democrats, the president gave his party a pep rally, promising to veto a slew of legislation and to go on offense with his agenda. Manu Raj reports for POLITICO:

Despite his lame-duck status, the president promised that he would not sit on the sidelines in the next two years. He vowed more executive actions to implement his agenda, something bound to provoke anger from Republicans who have called the president’s unilateral moves, particularly on immigration, unconstitutional power grabs.

“I’m not going to spend the next two years on defense; I’m going to play offense,” Obama said, according to two attendees. . .

At the meeting, Obama, who has rarely used his veto pen in his six years in office, signaled he would henceforth use it repeatedly, including on GOP-sponsored legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

The president has spent the last eight weeks desperately trying to stay on the front page of the newspaper. In that span he announced a one-sided climate deal with China, enacted hundreds of new regulations to slow economic growth, unilaterally amended diplomatic relations with Cuba, loudly threatened to veto bipartisan legislation, offered an ill-advised plan for universal free community college, and, most recently, pushed mandatory paid sick leave, which in reality will have the effect of lowering wages.

The president refused to work across the aisle on any of those projects, but broad-based buy in was never going to be necessary because the Administration either intended to go it alone, or not at all. In fact, most of the policies that would require congressional action lacked key details, suggesting that the president was focused on making headlines, not law.

Recent leaks from the administration staffers suggest that the strategy is to keep the media spotlight firmly planted on the White House rather than the new GOP majority.

They’re testing a proposition “that we can get a little more attention for these things if we space them out,” one aide told POLITICO.

“With the new Republican Congress, they didn’t want to cede the first two weeks of January,” another unnamed source told POLITICO, adding that the plan reflected “the White House’s belief that there’s no reason to give them an open playing field and wait.”

The cynicism of this strategy is mindblowing. Republicans actively opposed the White House’s policies over the last few years because it was the only lever they had to pull negotiations towards a more conservative outcome. President Obama is actively opposing bipartisan policies (which has been the focus of the GOP-led Congress so far) because he wants to keep his name in the paper.

That’s a sad outcome for a president who once promised to change the way Washington works. Just as party relations start to improve, just as legislation is on the cusp of passage, just as the gears of Congress start to churn again, the president comes in to squash any progress. It’s clear that contrary to his public comments, he has no interest in working together or getting things done. Instead, he’s living up to the promises he’s making to fellow Democrats behind closed doors.