Obama’s disdain for Congress’ inaction boils over to political one-upmanship

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WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s dis­plea­sure with grid­lock in Wash­ing­ton — and with the Re­pub­li­cans he blames for it — has been ris­ing for months. This week it has boiled over.

From the Rose Garden to the Cabi­net Room to near the Key Bridge in Wash­ing­ton‘‍s George­town neigh­bor­hood, the pres­i­dent has sig­naled more than mere an­noy­ance at the state of af­fairs at the half­way point this year. His dis­dain for con­gres­sio­nal Re­pub­li­cans has stead­ily in­creased; his dis­re­spect for their tac­tics has hard­ened into con­tempt.

With an im­mi­gra­tion over­haul dead for this year, if not for the re­main­der of Mr. Obama’s pres­i­dency; with House Speaker John Boe­h­ner, R-Ohio, threat­en­ing to sue him for al­leged mis­use of pres­i­den­tial power; and with other im­por­tant leg­is­la­tion stalled in the House, the pres­i­dent has given voice to his frus­tra­tions with a se­ries of par­ti­san blasts. It cul­mi­nated Tues­day with a mock dare to the speaker and his fol­low­ers in the House: “So sue me!”

The pres­i­dent tries to mask his ir­ri­ta­tion with as­sur­ances that his door is open, his arm ex­tended and his will­ing­ness to com­pro­mise as gen­u­ine as ever. Here’s the way he put it at a Tues­day meet­ing with his Cabi­net: “Keep in mind that my pref­er­ence is al­ways go­ing to be to work with Con­gress and to ac­tu­ally get leg­is­la­tion done.”

Hours af­ter those re­marks about his pref­er­ence for work­ing to­gether, he of­fered an as­sess­ment of his op­po­nents that hardly seemed de­signed to convince them that he’s re­ally pre­pared to work with them.

“Re­pub­li­cans in Con­gress, they’re pa­tri­ots, they love their coun­try, they love their fam­i­lies,” he said from the Key Bridge. “They just have a flawed the­ory of the econ­omy that they can’t seem to get past. ... That’s their world­view. I’m sure they sin­cerely be­lieve it. It’s just not ac­cu­rate. It does not work.”

The ob­ject of Mr. Obama’s an­ger Mon­day was the stalled im­mi­gra­tion bill, which has been bot­tled up in the House be­cause of di­vi­sions among Re­pub­li­cans. The in­flux of chil­dren on the U.S.-Mex­i­can bor­der has cre­ated a fresh im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis for him to deal with. Mean­while, he wants ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials to draft pro­pos­als for him to act on his own to deal with the over­all prob­lem.

On Tues­day, his un­hap­pi­ness was di­rected at the lack of prog­ress on leg­is­la­tion to re­plen­ish the High­way Trust Fund, which will run out of money later this year. There is a bi­par­ti­san pro­posal from Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Chris Mur­phy, D-Conn., that would pro­vide a per­ma­nent solu­tion. The Corker-Mur­phy bill calls for an in­crease in the gas­o­line tax of six cents a gal­lon in each of the next two years and then in­dex­ing the tax to in­fla­tion, with off­sets to keep the mea­sure rev­e­nue-neu­tral. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed a shorter-term solu­tion, not a long-term fix. For now, noth­ing is mov­ing, though the trust fund long has been sup­ported by Re­pub­li­cans and Dem­o­crats.

Con­sen­sus-seek­ing long has been part of the pres­i­dent’s per­cep­tion of him­self. He sug­gests that he is the con­cil­i­a­tor-in-wait­ing, lack­ing only a will­ing hand across the aisle. But the lon­ger he has faced op­po­si­tion from enough House Re­pub­li­cans to block ac­tion on a se­ries of bills, the more he has tried to break the grid­lock by seek­ing to cap­i­tal­ize po­lit­i­cally.

In the face of wide­spread dis­af­fec­tion to­ward Wash­ing­ton and with con­gres­sio­nal ap­proval rat­ings fall­ing be­low 10 per­cent, the pres­i­dent wants to be seen as the one per­son try­ing to take ac­tion on be­half of peo­ple. What­ever he can do to sep­a­rate him­self from other pol­i­ti­cians in Wash­ing­ton, the bet­ter.

“We’re not al­ways go­ing to be able to get things through Con­gress, at least this Con­gress, the way we want to,” Mr. Obama said at his Cabi­net meet­ing. “But we sure as heck can make sure that the folks back home know that we’re push­ing their agenda.”

Mr. Obama’s goal in all this is ob­vi­ous. He des­per­ately wants to avoid see­ing the Senate fall into Re­pub­li­can hands. The GOP needs to gain only six seats to take full con­trol of Con­gress for Mr. Obama’s fi­nal two years in of­fice. Though some races they hoped would ma­teri­al­ize ha­ven’t yet done so, there are more than enough op­por­tu­ni­ties for Re­pub­li­cans to ac­com­plish it.

Dem­o­crats run­ning for re-elec­tion know that the most help­ful thing Mr. Obama can do for them is to raise his ap­proval rat­ings. But at this point, he re­mains stuck in the low 40s. A new Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll re­leased Wed­nes­day found that 54 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers say the ad­min­is­tra­tion is not com­pe­tent to run the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Given the state of the econ­omy and the state of the world, Dem­o­crats have to won­der if there is much Mr. Obama can do be­tween now and No­vem­ber to boost those num­bers.

The pres­i­dent is not wel­come in some states with com­pet­i­tive Senate races this fall. What he can do is raise money and speak to the con­stit­u­en­cies that Dem­o­crats need to have en­er­gized in No­vem­ber. His ad­vis­ers sig­naled ear­lier that he will be out of the White House as much as pos­si­ble.

His pub­lic ap­pear­ances, de­spite what­ever com­ments he makes about his de­sire to work with Con­gress, have been de­signed to sharpen the par­ti­san di­vi­sions, to be­lit­tle the Re­pub­li­cans and to say to mid­dle-class fam­i­lies — and es­pe­cially un­mar­ried women — that he’s with them, and the Re­pub­li­cans aren’t.

Mr. Obama said Tues­day that the peo­ple who can change the sta­tus quo are the vot­ers. That is rem­i­nis­cent of his 2012 cam­paign, when for a time he said it was up to the vot­ers to break the tie in Wash­ing­ton.

Many vot­ers didn’t re­ally be­lieve that then, and the elec­tion of 2012 didn’t change much in Wash­ing­ton. Will a re­peat per­for­mance work any bet­ter this time?

United States - North America - United States government - Barack Obama - United States Congress - District of Columbia - John Boehner - U.S. Republican Party - United States Senate - United States House of Representatives - Bob Corker - Chris Murphy - Dan Balz


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