But he is already signaling that he knows of the delicate balancing act in store for him in the months ahead.
“There’s going to be politics. That’s what happens in Washington. [Republicans] are going to play to their base for a certain period of time,” Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.
“My expectation, my hope, is that [Speaker-designate] John Boehner and [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell will realize that there will be plenty of time to campaign for 2012 in 2012,” he said. “Our job this year is to make sure that we build on the recovery. We started to make good progress on that during the lame duck, and I expect to build on that progress when I get back.”
A McConnell aide said Republicans have already shown they are willing to work with Obama on areas where they share common ground — even when Democrats won’t.
“McConnell has said that if the president wants to do things that we’ve been calling for, why wouldn’t we want to work with him? See the tax bill, for example. It wasn’t Reid and Pelosi on that stage,” the aide said, referring to the fact that neither Democratic leader attended last month’s signing ceremony for the tax cut package.
But senior Democratic aides cautioned Obama against losing sight of his base as he recalibrates his relationship with Republicans.
Many Democrats want to see the president “stand up and assert himself a bit more, especially since they think he got rolled in the tax cut debate,” one top House Democratic aide said.
Another senior Democratic aide said it is crucial for Obama to focus on the economy and on navigating budget battles, in addition to “positioning Democrats as common-sense leaders without abandoning basic Democratic principles.”
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that he hopes the president will continue to press for bipartisanship but, in the same breath, criticized Republicans for not working with Obama in the spirit that Democrats worked with President Ronald Reagan.
“You know, Social Security and tax reform under Ronald Reagan, it was an overwhelming Democratic House. We cooperated with the president. People tend to forget that,” the Maryland Democrat said. “This Republican Congress did not cooperate with Obama.”