Obama exults as Congress adjourns

Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 23, 2010

President Obama wrapped up an unexpectedly productive and politically successful lame-duck session of Congress on Wednesday with a sweeping assessment of his achievements.

He pronounced the newly ratified New START nuclear pact with Russia "the most significant arms-control agreement in nearly two decades" and said economists "across the political spectrum" agreed the deal he struck with Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts would speed economic growth. All in all, Obama concluded, this was "the most productive post-election period we've had in decades" and "the most productive two years that we've had in generations."

But even as he trumpeted his accomplishments at a news conference intended to showcase what his aides cast as a political revival, Obama grew most animated about the one that got away: his failure to win enough support to pass the DREAM Act, which would have allowed some children of illegal immigrants to gain citizenship.

"Maybe my biggest disappointment was this DREAM Act vote," he said. He added later that he intended to seek Republican support and take the case to the public for a broader immigration overhaul.

"One thing I hope people have seen during this lame-duck - I am persistent," the president said after a reporter asked whether he would continue to push the immigration measure next year. "If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it. And I believe strongly in this."

The president's strong language on immigration indicated he was already gearing his sights on his 2012 reelection campaign, when he will need strong support from Hispanic voters in states such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida. Some Hispanic lawmakers have accused Obama of not pushing hard enough with Democrats controlling Congress for a measure creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but Obama's comments Wednesday underscored White House efforts to repair ties.

Obama suggested the laws enacted this month demonstrated that bipartisanship is possible in Washington. "We are not doomed to endless gridlock," he said.

Yet his remarks on immigration and other issues - including a vow to continue fighting Republicans, who want to permanently extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans - underscored the struggles ahead for him next year when Republicans return with renewed strength in the Senate and a majority in the House.

Republicans questioned the idea that Obama had gotten the upper hand. They said the key victories - the START agreement and the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military - had bipartisan support before the lame-duck session began. The GOP also successfully blocked a major budget bill and won an extension of tax cuts on the highest incomes.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said his top political goal in the new Congress will be Obama's defeat in 2012.

Some Obama supporters cautioned that despite the president's hopeful tone, this month's flurry of legislative accomplishments should not be seen as a harbinger of harmony over the next two years.

"Clearly, they've all heard the same lesson about the importance of compromise," said Don Baer, a former senior adviser in the Clinton administration. "But I don't think that means we're entering an era of good feeling, and many issues - especially budget issues - are going to get a lot harder."

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