Obama shook hands on the House floor as he made his way through the crowd to deliver his State of the Union address. In his remarks, the president called on Congress to pass gun control measures and rewrite the nation’s immigration policy.
Many sources on both sides of the aisle are resigned to the idea that one person who does still like Congress — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a longtime creature of body — will be their chief point of contact in the administration. He is the clean-up guy who will have to deal with the tough issues on the ground after the presidential sermon is over.
That may be especially true when Senate Democrats attempt to move a bill dealing with gun violence and when they attempt to talk House Republicans into approving a long-stalled Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. Whether the White House will allow Biden to maneuver freely could determine how much of the agenda Obama laid out Tuesday night will become reality.
Biden’s success in the face of Congress’ disdain for dealing with Obama is not without precedent.
In the closing days of the fiscal cliff debate, he was the one who stepped in to negotiate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., at the last minute and then sold the deal to a skeptical Democratic caucus.
And it was Biden who tried to work with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to resolve the differences between the parties on VAWA.
For Obama, patching up relationships with Democrats, which have at times frayed during the president’s tenure, could be his most important order of business. When campaigning for re-election, Obama often failed to distinguish between “congressional Republicans” and Congress, half of which was run by his own party, in trying to play the foil to an institution with record-high disapproval ratings.
Democrats say they’re less concerned about that now, even though they’re still fighting to win back the House and maintain their expanded Senate majority.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said he believed Obama understands the important role Congress plays in executing his agenda, even though the president announced Tuesday evening plans to go around them on issues such as cybersecurity. Earlier this year, he announced he would take 23 executive actions on guns to circumvent the legislature.
“I think the president understands he can’t enact any laws without Congress passing those laws, so he wants to work with Congress. I expect that he’ll make that point very clear — that we have to work together — but he has a constitutional responsibility to point out when issues are not being dealt with that the American people expect Congress to take up and work out their differences,” Cardin said Tuesday afternoon.
Cardin said that while “it’s been pretty clear to the American people that those who want gridlock in Washington are those on the Republican side,” some in the GOP have reached out on changing Senate filibuster rules and on immigration overhaul plans.
The Maryland Democrat added that he hoped Obama would embrace a more “positive message of working together,” instead of a negative tone that might further alienate the GOP.
In speeches past, the president has always dinged the opposition, be it the Republican Party or Congress itself.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.