Does President Obama still have political juice?
The central question of President Obama’s Thursday press conference was asked in its early moments by NBC’s Chuck Todd.
“Are you worried about your own powers of persuasion and maybe that the American public is not listening to you any more?” Todd asked.
What Todd — a Fix friend, in the interest of full disclosure — was really getting at is this: Does Obama still have the political juice to convince his party in the Senate to pass some version of his $447 billion job-creating proposal?
Obviously, we won’t know the answer to that question unless and until the American Jobs Act — or some version of it — passes Congress. But, in the immediate aftermath of Obama’s press conference, Democratic strategists were skeptical about the president’s ability to bend the Senate to his will.
“The president did not consult with congressional leadership in any substantive way before he put this out,” said one senior Democratic Senate aide. “It was only at the last minute — once the bill was pretty much written.”
The source added that the jobs act as proposed by Obama might not get 40 votes, much less the 50, votes it needs for passage — hence the need for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) to revise it to include a millionaire’s surtax to pay for the proposal.
Said another senior Democratic strategist, post-speech: Obama’s “attempts to triangulate aren’t working and senators resent it.”
“It’s not a good strategy because the person running out of air most quickly is himself. We’re about a year out from the elections, and the senators are turning to their own races. They don’t have a lot of energy or political capital to spare for the president at this point.”
Obama is betting heavily on the fact that he can find the votes in the Democratic-led Senate to pass some version of the jobs act and, in so doing, ramp up pressure on House Republicans to stand against some of the most popular proposals contained in it.
“There may be some skepticism that I personally can persuade Republicans to take actions in the interest of the American people, but that’s exactly why I need the American people to try to put some pressure on them,” Obama said in response to Todd’s question.
(The president also repeatedly emphasized that if the full package wouldn’t pass then he would push each individual proposal and force those opposed to the measures to explain why they felt that way.)
The first test for Obama, however, is not with Republicans but with Democrats — many of whom have expressed varying levels of skepticism about his jobs plan.
Take Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, for example. Nelson is widely regarded as the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent up for re-election in 2012 and is already on the record with doubts about the proposal. “There’s too much discussion about raising taxes right now, not enough focus on cutting spending,” he told Politico last month.
Other targeted Democrats in swing states have been hesitant to support the entire jobs package but have backed individual proposals contained in it.
Raw political reality makes this a tough sell for Obama. Twenty three Democrats — or independents who caucus with Democrats — are up for re-election in 2012.
Of that group, five are running in states President Obama lost in 2008 while several others — the Virginia open seat, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown — are running in states that are decidedly swing-y.
For Obama then, this is a crucial test of his political muscle. Obviously it’s not where it was when he arrived in office and passed a stimulus bill, cap-and-trade legislation (in the House) and, eventually, a health care overhaul.
But does he have enough left to get some semblance of the jobs act through the Senate and whack the ball back into the House’s court?
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