The outreach-with-an-edge, captured by two very different events on a single day, is an extension of Obama’s emerging strategy to promote gun-control initiatives, immigration legislation and populist economic measures inside and outside the Beltway.
It is a mix that some senior advisers acknowledge did not always come together in the president’s first term. But now, those advisers say, they have a vast and still-energized campaign organization at Obama’s disposal and a domestic legacy to secure.
“The president believes that personal engagement is important, that relationships are important, that conversation and discussion are important,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday. “The president believes this is an important process, and he has enjoyed his consultations thus far.
Obama, a sometimes isolated figure during his first term, has been criticized for not forming more politically useful personal relationships on the Hill. His senior advisers say expectations are low that the current outreach effort will change many Republican minds. But if nothing else, some inside the White House said, it could clarify for the public GOP positions that could prove unpopular in the midterm elections at the end of 2014.
“The troubling part of the president’s outreach is that it is so infrequent that it can rightly lead to cynicism about his motives,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.). “We’re taking him at his word that this is a good-faith effort. But the proof will be in the follow-through.”
Asked if Obama’s decision to speak to OFA hours after courting House Republicans could undermine his outreach effort, Buck said: “We’ll see.”
After often failing in past talks with House Republican leaders, the president is focusing his current efforts on the party’s rank and file, who might break with GOP leadership. Republicans will be reminded of that strategy when Obama speaks Wednesday night to OFA, where he will probably make a case for immigration legislation, gun control, climate change, a minimum-wage increase and other policies that have popular support.
Although its leaders insist that the organization is not partisan and has no interest in legislative outcomes, the only advertising the group has run so far was directed at 13 House members, all of them Republican. The theme of the ads was Obama’s firearms initiative.
“The best shot now at getting anything done is to build from the middle out in the House — not through the leadership,” said a senior administration official, who described internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity. “I wouldn’t say this is a change in strategy, but it is a new approach due to a change in circumstances.”