President Obama is trying to regain his initiative after a trifecta of controversies consumed the White House. The administration's main tactic is to engage Republicans into opposing his legislation – on judges, appropriations, even immigration reform – to paint them as partisan operators unwilling to get things done.
Obama today nominated three judges for the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals despite GOP filibuster threats. The White House threatened to veto a House GOP spending bill that makes cuts in line with the Republicans' budget, setting the stage for a possible political standoff this fall, and the administration reasserted its faith in Attorney General Eric Holder, a perennial target for the president's opponents.
Whether the White House's tactics will be effective remains to be seen. Republicans say they're committed to following investigations into the controversies wherever they may lead, and the president faces a compressed time frame in his second term to pursue policy initiatives.
But here are three signs suggesting the White House is trying to change the subject after being battered in the media for the last several weeks.
1. Obama all but dared Senate Republicans to a filibuster showdown over judges. Introducing Patricia Ann Millett, Cornelia Pillard and Robert Wilkins, Obama bemoaned that the D.C. Circuit Court (the second-highest in the country) is short-staffed. With three vacancies on the 11-judge court, the president's Rose Garden announcement comes as Republican lawmakers say the president is trying to "pack" the court.
Even before Obama announced his appointees, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley cast the nominations as "reminiscent of FDR's era," an epithet meant to suggest the White House is trying to pack the court with political allies. On Tuesday, Obama sounded a defiant tone, criticizing the GOP for blocking judicial nominations. He recounted how he withdrew Caitlin Halligan's nomination for the appeals court after a two-and-a-half-year confirmation wait. "It has to stop. Too much of the people's business is at stake," Obama said.
2. Obama threatened to vetotwo House appropriations bills. These measures set funding for the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments. The veto threat is a signal to Republicans that the president remains opposed to spending cuts assumed in the House-passed budget engineered by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. That budget assumes across-the-board cuts associated with sequestration will remain in effect. Democrats, though, want to replace those cuts with savings elsewhere, according to Reuters. The veto threat is also significant because it raises the stakes heading into the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, when the government could face a possible shutdown and the treasury will reach its borrowing limit. The GOP legislation "would hurt our economy and require draconian cuts to middle-class priorities," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.
3. The White House is casting critics as partisan. Over the weekend, former White House adviser David Plouffe lashed out at House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, dredging up decades-old allegations against the California Republican. "Strong words from Mr Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler. And loose ethically today," Plouffe tweeted. Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough lent crucial support to embattled Attorney General Eric Holder, with his spokesman telling The New York Times, Holder "has the intellect, experience and integrity to efficiently run the Department of Justice and not get distracted by the partisans who seem more interested in launching political attacks."