Latest pivot for Obama: Control of Capitol Hill
GOP, health care woes blocking broad agenda
After offering an apology for the failed rollout of his signature health care reform law, President Obama in recent days has “pivoted” yet again — this time into full-blown campaign mode, blasting Republicans and reiterating his wish list of agenda items that can be achieved only if his party reclaims full control on Capitol Hill.
Over the past week, the president has spoken at Democratic Party fundraisers in Dallas and Miami, and used a Friday speech in New Orleans to bash the Republican Party and lay out an ambitious second-term agenda that includes immigration reform, infrastructure investment and free trade agreements. His underlying strategy, analysts say, is twofold. First, the White House is eager to turn attention away from Obamacare, which continues to
garner nothing but negative publicity from website glitches at HealthCare.gov, reports of Americans being booted off their insurance plans and other problems.
Second, and perhaps more important, is the president’s resurrection of a message to voters — along with wealthy donors and party foot soldiers — that he needs Democrats in full control on Capitol Hill to accomplish anything substantive during his final years in office.
Mr. Obama’s “pivot,” a term the White House has used when laying out strategies for refocusing on the economy and job creation, also is an attempt, ahead of next year’s midterm elections, to reclaim the narrative of his presidency rather than continuing to be driven by frequent negative news of the day.
“The president many, many times has tried to pivot back to the economy,” said Lara Brown, director of the Political Management Program at George Washington University. “Now, in all of his speeches, he’s pivoting back to his agenda, with him trying to be the agenda setter rather than the reactionary president. … And they’re surely trying to get off topic from Obamacare. They were hoping by this time it would actually be a selling point.”
Some party leaders, such as Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, argue that the health care reform law will be a net positive for Democrats next November.
Republicans say the opposite, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday that his party will bring up Obamacare continually and “tattoo it to [Democrats’] foreheads” as the elections approach.
Regardless of Obamacare’s impact on congressional elections, the firestorm around the law has shown no signs of letting up. Last week, Mr. Obama sat down with NBC and offered a rare apology for the glitches at HealthCare.gov and the fact that millions of Americans stand to lose their insurance as a result of the law, even though the president repeatedly and emphatically promised that wouldn’t happen.
Since that interview, Mr. Obama seems eager to move on.
On the road, Obamacare largely has been absent from most of his speeches, which instead have been a mix of Republican-bashing and big, broad agenda-setting — or a combination of the two.
“If you just looked objectively at what the Democratic Party and Democratic senators stand for right now, it’s a lot more aligned with what the American people believe and what they care about than what a small faction of the other party is trying to promote,” Mr. Obama said Friday night at a party fundraiser in Miami, again taking shots at the tea party Republicans in the House whom the president holds personally responsible for the partial government shutdown last month.
“And I’m confident that there’s going to be an adjustment process where the Republican Party kind of moves back to reason and common sense. But they’re only going to do that if our politics is reflected, or elections reflect, that common sense,” the president said. “And if they’re rewarded for cooperation and, when [lawmakers] aren’t looking out for the interests of the American people, there are some consequences. And that’s why elections matter. That’s why they count.”
During his swing through New Orleans and Miami, Mr. Obama rattled off his legislative wish list that, with the notable exception of immigration reform, had been forgotten in recent months: investment in infrastructure and education, more free trade agreements, stricter gun control and other issues.
But by tying success of those issues to a Democratic win in 2014, Mr. Obama may be inadvertently abandoning any hope for progress over the next 12 months, Ms. Brown said.
“When you demonize the other side, I don’t understand how it is you can then work with them. If you call the other side crazy for a year and a half, it’s very difficult to say, ‘Oh, yes, I’ve decided to negotiate with those irrational people,’” she said. “I would tell him he actually needs to stop going to the people. He needs to stay in Washington and focus on trying to get something done. If you want to start winning with the American people, you have to start racking up some small wins and achievements.”
Furthermore, the president is wasting a key opportunity to highlight the successes his administration can claim, Ms. Brown said.
Despite its problems, Obamacare represented a major win for Democrats’ decadeslong effort to reform the nation’s health care system.
Under Mr. Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun to implement a host of regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions and make good on the president’s pledge to confront climate change.
By most accounts, Mr. Obama came out of the government shutdown a political winner, having stood his ground and refused to give in to Republican demands that he dismantle or delay parts of the Affordable Care Act. The deal to end the shutdown also has brought about another round of budget talks on Capitol Hill, which may result in a compromise spending plan in which the president gets at least some of what he wanted.
“But you don’t hear the president talking about having the possibility for a new budget deal,” Ms. Brown said. “He seems to be more interested in focusing on, once again, the things Republicans aren’t doing because that helps him stay in campaign mode.”