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2009 Democratic agenda severely weakened by Republicans' united opposition
The president stacked his administration with Capitol Hill veterans to help get the job done. Vice President Biden had served in the Senate since 1972. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had been a rising star in the House. Senior advisers Pete Rouse and Jim Messina, budget director Peter Orszag and legislative affairs director Phil Schiliro had close ties to key lawmakers.
By the end of June, Congress had sent 10 major bills to Obama, including tougher tobacco regulations, a new public service initiative, and recession-related efforts to provide mortgage relief and curb predatory banking practices.
But Republican votes never materialized -- at least not in meaningful form that the White House had in mind. The first hint of GOP obstruction had emerged in January, when Obama made an early trip to Capitol Hill to urge support for his stimulus bill.
Standing at the microphones in the Ohio Clock corridor after the closed-door meeting with House Republicans, Obama expressed hope that his adversaries could "put politics aside" and support the bill.
But even as he spoke, House GOP leaders were urging their rank-and-file to vote against the rescue package. Obama had just departed when House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) issued a statement calling the plan a "wasteful and unfocused package."
The bill received zero Republican votes in the House. Eight months later, by the time bipartisan health-care talks collapsed in September, the GOP outreach effort was effectively dead.
Democrats blamed the breakdown on Republican determination to undermine Obama. "If there's a political strategy not to cooperate, there's not a whole lot that you can do about it," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod.
The few GOP senators who sought consensus on health care concluded that Obama didn't have the patience to wait out protracted bipartisan negotiations in the Senate. Had those talks yielded a bill, it would likely have been smaller in scope than the White House had in mind, but Republicans would have shared its ownership.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who worked for months on a bipartisan bill, said he decided Obama was not committed to meaningful compromise when he asked the president at an Aug. 6 White House meeting to take a stand against the government insurance option, a liberal favorite. Grassley said Obama did not answer him.
Democrats "know if they stick together, they'll get the job done," Grassley said before Brown's victory broke the filibuster-proof majority.
"They won the election. They're going to get it done even if the American people don't approve of it. And I think they're going to regret it."
Hands-off with Congress
In Reid and Pelosi, congressional Democrats were led by two battle-hardened politicians who had gained stature within their caucuses for their pragmatic determination.