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.

    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    You May Like

    South Sudan Sends First Ever Official Olympic Team to Rio

    VOA caught up with Santino Kenyi, 16, one of three athletes who will compete in this year's summer games in Brazil

    Arrest of Malawi's 'Hyena' Man Highlights Clash of Ritual, Health and Women's Rights

    Ritual practice of deflowering young girls is blamed for spreading deadly AIDS virus

    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    VOA finds things Americans take for granted are special to foreigners

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora