Obama promises to use a ‘pen and a phone’ to push his agenda

President Obama held his first Cabinet meeting of 2014 to lay out his goals for the new year, including a strong economy, extension of unemployment benefits and less partisanship in Congress. (Associated Press/AP)

Speaking to reporters just before convening his first Cabinet meeting of 2014, President Obama said Tuesday he would use his executive authority to promote his agenda in the face of congressional resistance,

Noting that he had a “pen and a phone,” the president said he would sign executive orders and mobilize nonprofit groups and corporations to make progress on issues when legislation stalled in Congress.

As part of this strategy, Obama said, he will travel to North Carolina on Wednesday to talk about manufacturing innovation hubs, will talk with college and university presidents Thursday about how to make college more accessible and will meet with company chief executives later this month about committing to hiring the long-term unemployed.

“So, overall, the message to my Cabinet - and that will be amplified in our State of the Union -- is that we need all hands on deck to build on the recovery that we’re already seeing," the president said. "The economy is improving, but it’s in need of improving even faster."

National Economic Council director Gene Sperling, who has helped organize both the college and skills summits that are taking place this month, said he expects these events to translate into concrete action.

“Whenever I spoke to any group of college presidents, foundations or businesses, we made crystal clear that we are not doing a conference to do panels for panels' sake, or to talk about what everyone thinks they are already doing good,” Sperling said. “We made clear we are doing this to change the world by changing the paths of young people’s lives.”

Thursday’s White House conference will feature leaders such as Franklin &  Marshall College president Daniel R. Porterfield, whose school has nearly doubled its financial aid to first-year students over the past five years and more than tripled the proportion of incoming students who are eligible for Pell Grants during that same period.

Porterfield, who met with Sperling and a handful of other college leaders on Nov. 13 to help develop policy targets for the summit, said he has hosted meetings on his campus asking how they can raise their school’s level of ambition even higher.

“When the White House rings the bell, all of us go to the starting line ready to intensify our work,” Porterfield said in an interview. “We’re asking ourselves, what more we can do?”

Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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Juliet Eilperin · January 14