News / USA

Obama’s Risky Go-it-Alone Strategy

President Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)
President Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)
Call it a reset, reboot or Obama 3.0.  Whatever it is, entering the sixth year of his presidency, President Barack Obama has decided he will go it alone if he has to.  After five years of fits and starts in trying to work with Republicans in Congress on divisive issues like health care reform and cutting the debt, Obama set a new course in his State of the Union address. 

“America does not stand still and neither will I,” he said.

His declaration drew a pop-up ovation from Democrats in the House of Representatives chamber.  Republicans sat on their hands staring straight ahead.
 
Obama did renew an appeal to Congress to work together if possible and seemed to indicate that immigration reform represents the best potential for success, adding that it was time to “fix our broken immigration system”. 

Unlike past years, he did not hammer Republicans for blocking a path to citizenship.  Several Republican lawmakers seemed to appreciate the ‘soft-sell approach’ and there are indications that leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and others may be open to a compromise that eventually might offer a path to legal status to the millions of residents who entered the country illegally.
 
Republicans have an incentive to defuse immigration as a political issue.  A kinder, gentler approach to the growing Hispanic population would help blunt Democratic attacks in this year’s congressional midterm campaign that Republicans are anti-immigration.  It’s also another sign that mainstream Republicans believe the Tea Party is in retreat after last October’s politically disastrous government shutdown that hurt the Republican Party across the board.
 
The limits of executive action
 
One of the first actions the president announced was increasing the minimum wage for new federal contract workers from $7.25 an hour to $10.10.  But this action also points up the limits of executive power.  The wage increase only applies to future contracts and will impact very few workers initially.
 
Most of the other actions announced by the president are small-bore steps and programs designed to buttress his fundamental goal—to make the middle class more secure and to try and narrow the growing income gap between the wealthiest 1 percent in the U.S. and everyone else.
 
That’s not to say executive orders and presidential proclamations can’t have a major impact.  Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 freeing slaves in the southern states.  President Harry Truman issued the order to desegregate the military in 1948 and President Bill Clinton unilaterally declared millions of acres of federal land as protected national monuments in the 1990s.
 
But the Constitution sets limits on unilateral presidential action and executive orders are not immune from court challenges that occasionally wind up being decided in the Supreme Court.  Given the conservative slant to the current high court, the president may wish to avoid that if possible.
 
The Republican backlash

The Republican reaction to the president’s ‘Go it alone’ strategy has been predictable.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a possible presidential contender in 2016, described the approach as “borderline unconstitutional.”  Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Texas Senator and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz decried the president’s “persistent pattern of lawlessness.”
 
Since the earliest days of his presidency, many Republicans, especially those aligned with the Tea Party, have promoted the narrative that Obama is bent on pursuing an ‘imperial presidency.’  They point to the enactment of the health care law as the prime example of the president running roughshod over the objections of the tens of millions of Americans represented by Republicans in Congress.  No Republicans supported the law when it passed Congress in 2010.
 
The Republicans will try to turn the executive order strategy against the president and Democrats in the November elections.  And they will continue to focus on what they contend is the failure of Obamacare in this year’s campaign, even though the president made it clear in his State of the Union that he believes voters are not interested in refighting old battles over health care again in 2014 and he will resist any effort to kill the law.
   
It’s really about November

In any election year, the president’s State of the Union serves as a blueprint for his party’s campaign strategy.  For Democrats in 2014, the emphasis will be on bolstering the middle class with practical government assistance that includes raising the minimum wage across the board, extending unemployment benefits for the jobless, greater access to college and funding pre-school programs.  Polls show these types of initiatives are popular not only with Democrats but with independent voters, a group that has vacillated in its support of the president in the past.

Obama and the Democrats are trying to tap into a growing sense of middle class angst that is leftover from the last recession, the fear that the American Dream is in decline and that our children will not have it as good as we had it.  It’s the same fear that underlines poll numbers that show for the past 10 years, Americans have generally felt the country is headed in the wrong direction.  It’s also partly why Obama’s approval rating is mired down in the low to mid-40s even though there are numerous signs of an improving national economy in terms of job growth and a strengthening housing market.
 
Republicans are trying to tap into the same fears.  Their pitch will be to limit the government’s involvement in the lives of Americans and rely more on individual initiative and the power of the free market.  They will point over and over again to the flaws of the president’s health care law as the best example of government overreach.
 
And so the midterm battle begins with significant political stakes for the president and for both political parties.  If the Republicans can hold or increase their majority in the House of Representatives and also gain the six seats they need to take control of the Senate, they will be able to block anything the president wants to do in his final two years, rendering him a true ‘lame duck.’
 
Democrats are panicked at the thought of losing the Senate and will pour all the resources they have into holding enough seats to keep their majority.  Their problem is that many of the key Senate races this year are in Republican-leaning states that have soured on Obama.  If the president’s poll ratings stay low, history tell us that Democrats could have a long and difficult night when the elections are held on November 4.

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: DLKirkwood from: Puyallup, WA
January 29, 2014 5:22 PM
Go it alone? I think Obama still has a good deal of the country behind him. There are more people struggling to make ends ends meet than corporate CEO's pocketing millions in bonuses.

I am just glad he is finally strengthening his backbone against the players and bullies who have refused to participate in building this country up (all of the country) instead of being devisive.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid