After the first 100 days of his second term, President Obama just can’t stop talking about the limits of his own power.
At a press conference Tuesday morning, he said he wanted a smooth roll out for ObamaCare, but then added, “even if we do everything perfectly, there’ll still be, you know, glitches and bumps.” He reaffirmed his desire to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but said “Congress determined that they would not let us close it.” He argued for an end to the sequester, only to add that he doesn’t have enough sway with Congress to make it happen. “You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities, and that my job is to somehow get them to behave,” he said to one reporter. “That’s their job!”…
The first 100 days have not exactly gone according to plan: Gun control measures in which he invested his political capital died weeks ago, immigration reform faces a perilous path in the House of Representatives, budget and deficit reduction talks are mired in slow moving back room negotiations, and the sequester remains in place with a few targeted exceptions. As nearly every legislative priority has stalled, his approval rating has fallen below 50 percent.
A revealing new book from one of media’s longest-serving White House correspondents reports that President Obama surrounds himself only with “idolizers,” and top aides make sure that those whose views might “shake him up too much” are shoved aside…
[Walsh] called top Chicago aide Valerie Jarrett “one of the leading idolizers” who blocks the access of critics to her boss. “Jarrett has gone too far in limiting others’ access to the president, according to a number of White House and congressional sources,” writes Walsh in the book, due out June 1. “Her goal is to keep Obama in a cocoon of admirers who won’t, in her mind, shake him up too much or present views that might be contrary to her understanding of Obama’s positions.”
Democratic pollster Peter Hart told Walsh that Obama is more a performer than seasoned politician. “He likes performing. He likes crowds,” said the pollster. But Hart added that Obama’s White House is too distant from those in Congress who can help him. “It’s closed. It’s insular. It’s shut out.”
One hundred days into his second term, Obama has already lost control of the agenda, if he ever had control in the first place. He ricocheted through his news conference, as he has through his presidency recently, between issues and crises not of his choice…
Obama is correct about the dysfunction, and the difficulty of passing even uncontroversial bills. But his stance was frustratingly passive, as if what happens in Congress is out of his hands. It’s the president’s job to lead, and to bang heads if necessary, regardless of any “permission structure.” Obama seemed oddly like a spectator, as if he had resigned himself to a reactive presidency…
Open-mindedness is nice. But lively leadership is the way to resuscitate a moribund presidency.
Here is the problem: Even if you concede to Obama every point of his Tuesday news conference, a president looks weak and defeated when he shifts accountability to forces out of his control.
Clinton had a different problem 18 years ago, when a reporter asked whether he worried about “making sure your voice will be heard” over the obsessive media coverage suddenly given to Gingrich. “The Constitution gives me relevance,” Clinton replied. “The power of our ideas gives me relevance. The record we have built up over the last two years and the things we’re trying to do to implement it give it relevance.” It was, by most accounts, the lowest point of the Clinton presidency. The next day, domestic terrorists bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and Clinton’s strong response put him back on track for reelection in 1996.
This is where perceptions of Obama and Clinton differ. After the Boston bombings and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings (not to mention the assassination of Osama bin Laden), few voters would doubt Obama’s ability to respond to crises. But with so much of his agenda stalled 100 days into his second term, Americans might wonder about his ability to simply govern. Judging from Tuesday’s news conference, Obama has his doubts, too.
JON KARL: Mr. President, you are one hundred days into your second term. On the gun bill, you did everything you could to get it passed, obviously it didn’t. Congress is ignoring your efforts to try to get an undo of the Sequester. There’s even a bill that you threatened to veto that had 92 democrats in the House voting yes. My question to you is: Do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?
OBAMA: Well if you put it that way, Jon… Maybe I should just pack up and go home… Golly. As Mark Twain said, the rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point. We understand we’re in a divided government right now. Republicans controlled the House of Representatives. In the Senate, this habit of requiring 60 votes for even the most modest piece of legislation has gummed up the works there. It comes to no surprise to the American people and members of congress themselves that, right now, things are a bit dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill.