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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track 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.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid