West Wing Briefing
Key wins in a lame-duck session
Monday, December 20, 2010; 9:51 AM
Remember when congressional Republicans announced they wouldn't show up to a White House meeting with President Obama right after the November midterms? The snub seemed to suggest Obama's influence was waning in Washington.
But more than a month later, the lame-duck session that began after the election shellacking has turned into a surprising success for the president. The tax-cut compromise he forged with congressional Republicans won the majority of votes in both parties on Capitol Hill, while Congress pushed through the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" over the weekend--delighting some of the same liberals irritated by the extension of tax cuts for wealthy.
A less controversial measure to make school lunches healthier, touted by first lady Michelle Obama as well as the president, was also approved by Congress and signed into law. And before its session ends this week, the Senate could also push through a nuclear treaty with Russia known as START that Obama has championed.
None of this guarantees a dramatic shift in Obama's political fortunes. As Democrats no doubt learned in November, legislative victories mean little at the polls: the 2009-10 Congress passed huge pieces of legislation that either turned off voters (the Republican view) or simply didn't get the electorate to ignore the recession (the Democratic perspective.)
And the lame-duck session also has included some failures for the administration. Despite a strong push from the White House, Senate Republicans blocked passage of an immigration measure called the Dream Act that Latino activists had urged.
And Congress is likely to pass only a two-month extension of funding for the government, setting up a budget fight in March between the White House and a newly-empowered congressional GOP.
The partisan warfare Obama has bemoaned is not going to disappear, either. Two days after appearing at a signing ceremony at the White House, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emphasized on Sunday that he still will push to repeal the health-care legislation Obama signed into law earlier this year.
Still, the president has not appeared as diminished as the election results suggested he would. Back in 1995, President Clinton felt it necessary to declare that "the president is still relevant," after congressional Republicans spent months dominating Washington.
For now, at least, it's obvious that Obama is still influential.
First family vacations without POTUS
The president has delayed his Christmas vacation to sign some of the newly passed bills into law. But Michelle, Sasha, Malia and Bo arrived in Honolulu on Saturday afternoon to begin the Obamas' annual vacation.
The president at least gets to keep Air Force One, as the remainder of his family took a smaller military plane for the trip. (Air Force One is technically whatever plane the president flies on, but it's a 747, bigger than the 737 the rest of the First Family took)
It is warmer in Hawaii than Washington (high of 76 in Honolulu on Sunday) but all is not perfect: heavy rainfall there has required the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood warning for Oahu.
And while Obama is still loved in the state where he was born, Hawaiians seen somewhat less thrilled than they once were that one of their own is in the Oval Office.
From the Tribune's Michael Memoli, who is in Hawaii awaiting the president's arrival: "The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday that Obama-related memorabilia is harder to find, and what remains on store shelves has been marked down in price. An Obama license plate at one store could be had for just $4.99."