Analysis: Obama Has Chance to Push For Change
Just re-elected, President Barack Obama already is confronting a time crunch. Tuesday’s State of the Union address presents a rare and fleeting opportunity to push the second-term agenda that could help determine his legacy - if he can get Congress to act quickly.
The president has maybe a year before electoral politics tends to accelerate the already nasty gridlock between the White House and Republican lawmakers frustrated that Obama won a second term.
Still, this is Obama’s best chance to be the transformational leader he signaled he wants to be in his inaugural address when he called for a long list of left-leaning priorities, including gun control, immigration reform, climate change and advancing rights for gays and women. These were issues he didn’t prioritize in his first term as he grappled with two wars and a recession - and faced a re-election bid in which he needed to campaign for America’s middle. But fresh off his convincing victory, unburdened by the prospect of another campaign, now is his time to try to create his legacy.
The question is how far he is willing to go to get his agenda passed and whether he can overcome GOP obstacles. His agenda has to compete with real world demands of domestic problems and world events.
The unemployment rate recently has ticked up to 7.9 percent, only a few tenths of a percentage point lower than it was four years ago, and fights over spending loom on the legislative horizon. And North Korea’s nuclear test and unrest in the Middle East put foreign policy back at center stage.
Democrats cheered Obama’s inaugural speech and are looking for him to keep up "this new-found feistiness," as Democratic consultant Jim Manley described it.
"I want to see him following up on the aggressive tone in the inaugural address, including putting political capital behind both immigration and gun control, making it very clear it is his intention to get those both done sooner rather than later," said Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Manley says in his experience on Capitol Hill, Obama doesn’t even have a year before lawmakers are unwilling to go along with his demands.