The Washington Post

How two simple things could make or break President Obama’s second term

President Obama zeroed in Wednesday night on the only two ways he can pass the items on his ambitious second term agenda. One is to persuade enough Republicans to compromise with him. The other is to win back the House. He's simultaneously trying to do both.

It's as simple and as complicated as that.

President Obama speaks during a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago May 29, 2013.(Saul Loeb/AFP Getty Images)

First, the simple. To pass bills, you need votes. And Obama has been courting Republicans he thinks are most likely to meet him somewhere in the middle. In the president's "charm offensive," Obama has eschewed the negotiations with GOP leadership that produced standoff after standoff in his first term in favor of courting key rank and file members.

"For me to govern effectively over the next three, three and a half years, part of my task is to constantly, continually reach out to the other side to try to find common ground; to look for those Republicans who don't think compromise is a dirty word," Obama said Wednesday night at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser in Chicago.

While the concept is simple, the execution is difficult. Look no further than the debate over guns, which culminated in the defeat of expanded background checks on gun sales, a proposal offered up by a bipartisan team that had the support of 90 percent of Americans.

If he doesn't get the compromise he seeks, Obama said Wednesday, he has another plan.

"If day in, day out, what we confront is obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism and what appears to be an interest only in scoring political points or placating a base, as opposed to trying to advance the interests of the American people, then we’ve got to figure out a way to work around that. And one of the best ways to work around it is to have a Democratic House of Representatives," he said.

Obama is making an aggressive effort to try to help Democrats pick up the 17 seats they need to seize back the majority. Wednesday's fundraiser was one of eight the president will attend this year on behalf of House Democrats' campaign arm. In 2009, he attended just two.

If Democrats net enough seats, gone will be the days the president has to worry about a GOP majority that has stonewalled his agenda since sweeping into power in 2010. The math is simple. But again, the degree of difficulty is high.

History and a redistricting process that has produced a polarized map with fewer swing seats has made winning the majority a very tall task for Democrats. It simply does not look to be a likely bet at this point.

But Obama's going to keep trying. Ditto on looking for Republicans he can work with. If Obama succeeds on either front, even the more challenging parts of his agenda could realistically pass. But if neither happens, the president could be in for a very forgettable second term likely to disappoint his supporters.

It's as simple and as complicated as that.


Obama plans to nominate former senior Justice Department official James B. Comey to be the next head of the FBI. Comey served in the George W. Bush administration.

Attorney General Eric Holder will begin meeting Thursday with top news executives, an effort to assuage concerns about the Justice Department's into journalists reporting on sensitive material. The New York Times and Associated Press will not attend off the record meetings.

Two congressional Republicans want Holder to clarify testimony he gave earlier this month.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) and Mayors Against Illegal Guns Director Mark Glaze were sent letters that included material that preliminarily tested for ricin.

Former California Democratic congressman Joe Baca released the endorsement sheet that has been the source of some disagreement from lawmakers who say they did not endorse him.

Get ready for some more IRS hearings on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) got his first GOP challenger.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) won't run for the Senate.


"Another tea party voice heads for sidelines" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

"Who Will Lead the Tea Party Caucus?" -- Emma Dumain, Roll Call

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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Sean Sullivan · May 29, 2013

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