President Obama passed the 100-day mark of his second term facing questions about whether his political capital is already disappearing. Republicans took delight in his discomfort, but they have their own 100-day question to answer: What have they done since November to turn around their fortunes?
The president has had a difficult spring. His gun legislation, though it mustered more than 50 votes, was blocked in the Senate. His advisers are more optimistic about immigration reform, but the measure still faces serious obstacles, especially in the House. Implementation of his health-care law worries some members of his own party. And if there is genuine progress on the budget, no one has been able to describe it.
Obama’s news conference in two minutes: The president took questions from reporters at the White House on Tuesday, discussing Syria, the Boston bombings, closing Guantanamo, immigration reform, and Jason Collins.
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What do Republicans have to show politically for the president’s travails? So far, there is little to suggest they have truly begun to solve the problems highlighted by Mitt Romney’s loss to Obama last November, party weaknesses that were cited in a post-election report by a Republican National Committee task force.
Congressional Republicans still have far lower approval ratings than the president, although so do congressional Democrats. That is almost always the case. But Republicans also have taken positions on issues this year that have left them on the wrong side of public opinion. Those issues include background checks for gun purchases, the best way to deal with the budget (spending cuts alone vs. a combination of cuts and taxes) and, to a lesser extent, whether illegal immigrants should be given a path to citizenship.
In a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey, seven out of 10 Americans said the GOP is out of touch with the concerns “of most people” in the country. Neither Obama nor the Democratic Party has sterling ratings on this question (slightly positive for Obama and slightly negative for the Democratic Party). But the Republican deficit is far bigger than that of the other two. Even 49 percent of Republicans said their party is out of touch.
Republican opposition to universal background checks for gun purchasers continues to reverberate. The opposition may threaten few individual members, given the leanings of individual congressional districts or constituencies in largely Republican-leaning states. But it is likely to hurt Republicans in areas and among voters they need to win presidential races — suburbs and female voters being prime examples.
After an election in which their nominee won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, many Republicans said it was time to find a new strategy to attract Hispanics to the party. That brightened prospects for comprehensive immigration reform, which George W. Bush tried to enact in his second presidential term, only to be thwarted by his own party.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose conservative credentials were not in question, took the lead in working out a bipartisan proposal as a member of the Senate Gang of Eight that included Republicans John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.). The group’s work raised the hopes of reform advocates that this was the year for action.