WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama this week will test whether he still has the power to keep Washington focused on his own priorities, even as a new Republican-run Congress is eager to take him on.
Fresh off a two-week Hawaii vacation, Obama immediately began preparing for his State of the Union address on January 20 – his best chance to set the agenda for 2015 on his own terms. Obama will roll out new executive steps and proposals for Congress this week on home ownership, higher education and manufacturing jobs – a similar menu to the one he has offered in the past.
Republicans have a different plan. In full control of Congress for the first time of Obama’s presidency, they look forward to an all-out offensive against his policies on immigration, foreign policy and the environment.
Just as lawmakers arrive in Washington this week, with the new Congress seating Tuesday, Obama is going out of town. He plans to spend most of the week in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee showcasing how his own economic policies are fueling the economic recovery.
In Detroit on Wednesday, Obama plans to promote the return of manufacturing jobs and his decision to bail out the auto industry. In Phoenix the next day, Obama is to showcase gains in the housing sector since the real estate crash and unveil new steps to help Americans buy a home, the White House said. And on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden will join Obama in Tennessee to discuss new ways to help more people attend college or get job training.
As Obama closed out 2014, he was energised by a series of high-profile presidential moves in the last six weeks of the year. Following brutal midterm election losses for Democrats in November, Obama’s actions on Cuba and immigration suggested he still retained some relevance, and Obama said he intended to carry that momentum into 2015.
Of the issues the White House said Obama will emphasise in the coming weeks, none were among the handful of areas that both Democrats and Republicans have cited as ready for compromise – like trade, tax reform and infrastructure.
And without a Democratic majority in the Senate to stop them, Republicans plan to start chipping away at Obama’s past actions on health care, immigration and the environment, to name a few.
“There are a number of issues we could make progress on, but the president is clear that he will not let this Congress undo important protections gained – particularly in areas of health care, Wall Street reform and the environment,” said Eric Schultz, Obama’s spokesman.
Senator Bob Corker said Republicans would still do business with Obama on issues like taxes and trade promotion despite their irritation at his unilateral action in other areas.
“Look, obviously we have not liked the executive actions that especially were taken” after the November midterms, Corker said on Fox. “But we understand with humility, we’ve got a lot of serious issues that need to be addressed. The bigger issues absolutely require the president to be involved.”