WASHINGTON — Early in his press conference Tuesday, President Obama got the “100 days” question. More than three months into his second term, ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked, do the failed battles over the sequester and gun control mean the president is now powerless?
To put it Karl’s way, “Do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?”
“As Mark Twain said, you know, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” Obama replied.
But at the same time, the president made sure the viewing audience knew that he can’t get stuff done — and that it’s the fault of Republicans that he can’t. It’s a tightrope the White House has walked for a while now: project strength and capability from the Oval Office, while keeping one finger pointed at Congress just in case things go wrong.
After the second-term defeats on gun control and the sequester — Obama appeared to concede that sequester politics have not gone his way at the presser, blaming a short-term focus in Congress ahead of 2014 — the president said immigration reform is where he’ll get a victory.
“I feel confident that the bipartisan work that’s been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate and passes the House and gets on my desk. And that’s going to be a historic achievement,” he said. “And I’ve been very complimentary of the efforts of both Republicans and Democrats in those efforts.”
Some of Obama’s allies say Obama hasn’t used what juice he has effectively. After the White House got behind a bill passed by both parties of Congress that provided a fix for flight delays caused by sequestration, some in Congress and in Obama’s base contended he had ceded the sequester fight. On Monday, Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut told a local paper he wished Obama had done more in the gun control fight. “I wish he had turned the screw harder,” Himes said.
At the press conference, Obama rejected the idea that publicly opposing the flight-delays plan would have cajoled Republicans into coming back to the negotiating table.
“Frankly, I don’t think that if I were to veto, for example, this FAA bill, that that somehow would lead to the broader fix,” he said. “It just means that there’d be pain now, which they would try to blame on me, as opposed to pain five years from now.”
In short, Obama isn’t sure he has the juice when it comes to the sequester.
“I think there’s a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only sequester but Washington dysfunction,” Obama said, referring to some Republican senators he said have expressed a desire to work with the White House on sequestration. “Whether we can get it done or not, you know, we’ll see.”
The essential point Obama was trying to get across was that Congress is responsible for its own actions. But at the same time, he doesn’t want to concede that he’s out of the loop completely.
“I cannot force Republicans to embrace those common-sense solutions. I can urge them to,” he said. “I can put pressure on them, I can, you know, rally the American people around those — you know, those common-sense solutions, but ultimately they themselves are going to have to say, we want to do the right thing.”