President Obama’s second term challenges come into focus during a single day

April 4, 2013

President Obama continues a swing through the western part of the country today. Day one of his trip neatly encapsulated both the top priorities and early complications of his second term.


(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Obama stopped in Denver on Wednesday, where he met with law enforcement officials and delivered remarks urging Congress to take action on his stalled gun control agenda.

From there, he flew to San Francisco, where he appeared at pair of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraisers Wednesday night -- his first of the cycle.

It was just one day, but it served as a reminder about both the complications the president has faced in his second term, and how he is trying to ease them.

Let's first look at gun control. Obama has put his political capital behind an effort to press Congress to pass tighter gun restrictions in the wake of a deadly school shooting late last year in Newtown, Connecticut. His plea for action Wednesday came as the push to expand background checks faces an uncertain future, despite widespread support from the public. And advocates' hopes to ban assault-style weapons have been all but dashed.

And that's just in the Senate, which Democrats control. The GOP-controlled House, which has stonewalled much of Obama's legislative agenda, will be an even harder sell for gun-control advocates.

Which is why the second leg of Obama's Wednesday trip mattered. The president is committed to making a robust effort to win back control of the House in the 2014 midterm elections and cement his legacy during the final two years of his tenure in the White House.

"Despite all the rhetoric on television, I actually believe that Americans have a lot more in common than our political rhetoric would give us credit for," Obama said Wednesday evening. "But having said all that, I know [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi. I’ve seen her courage. I know that she is willing to do the right thing, even when it’s not politically popular. And I want her once again as a fully empowered partner for us to be able to move our agenda forward."

As we've written in this space, seizing back the majority will be very difficult for House Democrats, who need to net 17 seats. But if Obama is somehow able to help them get it done, pushing for his agenda items, as he did during his stop in Denver, will become much easier.

In lobbying for expanded background checks for gun purchases, Obama was advocating something 90 percent of Americans agree with. Yet key senators have not been able to find a workable plan on the matter (Which is precisely why Obama expended capital pushing for it Wednesday.)

Part of what's complicated Obama's push for new gun control measures and his less hands-on effort in favor of immigration reform -- two priorities the president mentioned in his second inaugural address -- is the 2014 Senate landscape. Democrats are defending more seats than Republicans, several in states Obama lost in 2012. If the Democratic Party can preserve its majority in 2014, the 2016 landscape promise to be more forgiving, with the GOP playing more defense six years after the Republican wave of 2010.

In a nutshell, Obama's priorities may be in for a tough time on Capitol Hill in the current Congress. But if he has his way in 2014, his final two years look to be much smoother. Of course, the president may well be in for an even tougher time getting his way in the midterm elections.

Fixbits: 

The Maryland House passed strict new gun control measures.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned of new defense spending cuts.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) says Mark Sanford "needs to answer" for his ethics report.

Virginia Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II (R) challenged a recent court ruling that found the commonwealth's anti-sodomy law unconstitutional.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) launched his Senate bid.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) explained why North Korea might want to target the city of Austin.

Bill Burton is fighting against the Keystone XL pipeline extension.

Must-reads:

"Obama to take pay cut to draw attention to plight of federal workers facing furloughs" -- Lisa Rein and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post

"Obama hits fundraising trail with an eye on retaking the House" -- Amie Parnes and Justin Sink, The Hill

"GOP Race to Take On Landrieu Could Get Crowded" -- Emily Cahn, Roll Call

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan | April 3, 2013