Each of the issues that Obama is pursuing is being managed independently by the second-term White House team — an improvisational strategy that is testing the president’s ability to calibrate when to get involved and when to stay out of the way.
But senior administration officials acknowledge that only immigration legislation has a chance of resembling Obama’s ideal bill once it emerges from the Democratic-run Senate and the Republican-controlled House.
On his other major initiatives, they say Obama would settle for less than he claims he wants, a sign that he remains pragmatic in the face of partisan opposition that continues to limit his ambitions.
“I have the same worry about all of these issues, and it’s the Republican House,” said Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama senior adviser.
Obama outlined a broad progressive agenda in his second inaugural address, and he has spoken frequently about the validation that he believes the public gave his plans by reelecting him last year. But second-term presidents traditionally have less than two years to secure a legislative agenda before lame-duck status sets in, and Obama already has seen his popular support shrink in recent months from its post-
The election also did not change the basic political dynamic in Washington: a Democratic president in conflict with congressional Republicans, only some of whom believe last year’s election represented a call for compromise.
Each morning, the new White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, reviews the overall legislative progress with senior staff. Inside the White House, each issue has a group responsible for its day-to-day management on Capitol Hill.
The strategy has led Obama to alternately court Senate Republicans — as he did last week in his second such dinner with a dozen of them — and to scold them before outside-the-Beltway audi-
ences, as he did this month in denouncing GOP threats to block gun-control legislation. Advisers say he does so to keep the political momentum alive in Washington for measures with strong public support outside the capital.
After months of campaigning for his agenda, two of his priorities appear to be inching through the Democratic-controlled Senate: a compromise on gun-purchase background checks was announced last week and another deal is expected this week on immigration.