President Barack Obama left Washington on a high last month after racking up victories in the lame-duck session. But he returns this week to a much different climate: His own party is deeply divided over how he should work with the new Congress and Republicans are ready to hold him to his word about cutting deals together.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a vocal member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Obama should take “exactly the opposite” stance of a bipartisan broker, even though Republicans now control the House and have six more Senate seats.
“This mania about cutting the budget while cutting taxes is absurd,” said the New York Democrat, who urged Obama to stay focused on job creation instead of bowing to GOP demands to slash government funding.
“It would be a major mistake to be bipartisan with people who aren’t going to be bipartisan. You’ve got to be willing to draw lines in the sand and educate the public,” Nadler said.
But Rep. Henry Cuellar, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said the president should only stand firm on certain issues given the reality that Republicans hold more sway in Congress.
“He needs to push back a lot more” on Republican efforts to repeal health care reform and block judicial nominations, the Texas Democrat said. But when there are areas where “he can reach out, triangulate or whatever, he definitely needs to take a closer look.”
Republicans are keeping a running list of issues that they want Obama to help them advance. Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) said he will be looking to Obama to work with the GOP in areas they have both identified as being ripe for bipartisan progress: cutting spending, earmark reform, tax reform and scaling back regulations on businesses.
“I expect this president to put some action behind the words that he has been using,” Cantor said during a sit-down with reporters. “I hope that he picks up the phone and calls [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid ... and insists that he join us in making sure that there are no earmarks in legislation coming out of Congress.”
Obama, who returned to Washington on Tuesday after spending the holidays in Hawaii, oversaw passage of an impressive number of issues in the final days of the lame-duck Congress, including the ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a major victory for his base. Moreover, Obama said the lame-duck session should be a model for how the new Congress can succeed.
“If there’s any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it’s that we are not doomed to endless gridlock. We’ve shown, in the wake of the November elections, that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together,” he said at a news conference just before leaving for Hawaii.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.