Will Obama Be Presidential or Political?

While the White House and Congress stumble to an agreement, the great unknown is Obama’s second act.

President Barack Obama stands during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, October 15, 2013.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Ron Fournier
Oct. 16, 2013, 7:35 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans will cave, the White House will win, the gov­ern­ment will re-open, and the debt ceil­ing will be raised. These things are go­ing to hap­pen, just be­fore or soon after the gov­ern­ment hits its bor­row­ing lim­it ““ and at that point, Pres­id­ent Obama faces a de­cision.

Do I lever­age my vic­tory in­to a budget deal, elim­in­at­ing both a long-term na­tion­al threat and the main source of par­tis­an bick­er­ing?

Or do I rub salt in­to the GOP’s self-in­flic­ted wounds in the dis­tant hope of win­ning the House in 2014?

Gov­ern or cam­paign? Unite or di­vide? Lead or lay in­to the GOP?

Obama’s choice may be re­vealed in the way he ap­proaches im­mig­ra­tion re­form, which he curi­ously de­clared Tues­day to be his top pri­or­ity after the fisc­al crisis.

“Once that’s done, you know, the day after, I’m go­ing to be push­ing to say, call a vote on im­mig­ra­tion re­form,” Obama told the Los Angeles af­fil­i­ate of Span­ish-lan­guage tele­vi­sion net­work Uni­vi­sion.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing choice, giv­en the na­tion­al debt is an ex­ist­en­tial na­tion­al prob­lem and the crux of the role-of-gov­ern­ment de­bate that has tied Wash­ing­ton in knots for years. Does Obama really think im­mig­ra­tion is a more ser­i­ous prob­lem? Or is it merely the best polit­ic­al is­sue for Demo­crats?

It is tempt­ing to as­sume the worse, es­pe­cially as Obama is mod­el­ing his im­mig­ra­tion mes­sage on his fisc­al-crisis talk­ing points. Blam­ing House Speak­er John Boehner for pre­vent­ing im­mig­ra­tion from com­ing up for a vote in the past, Obama said, “The only thing right now that’s hold­ing it back is, again, Speak­er Boehner not will­ing to call the bill on the floor of the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives.”

Make no mis­take, Re­pub­lic­ans are on the wrong side of the im­mig­ra­tion de­bate, as meas­ured by the 2012 elec­tion res­ults and the na­tion’s shift­ing demo­graphy. The GOP also en­gin­eered the fisc­al crisis, and Boehner is a tra­gic­ally weak speak­er.

But most voters would be dis­ap­poin­ted if they learn that their pres­id­ent has aban­doned gov­ernance and the hard work of deal­ing with a frac­tured GOP to en­gage in an all-or-noth­ing bid for the House. While the White House and Con­gress stumble to an agree­ment, the great un­known is Obama’s second act. Will he be more pres­id­en­tial than polit­ic­al? Or will raw polit­ics define his pres­id­ency?

What We're Following See More »
Bill Murray Crashes White House Briefing Room
4 hours ago

In town to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center, Bill Murray casually strolled into the White House Briefing Room this afternoon. A spokesman said he was at the executive mansion for a chat with President Obama, his fellow Chicagoan.

CFPB Decision May Reverberate to Other Agencies
7 hours ago

"A federal appeals court's decision that declared the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau an arm of the White House relies on a novel interpretation of the constitution's separation of powers clause that could have broader effects on how other regulators" like the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Morning Consult Poll: Clinton Decisively Won Debate
7 hours ago

"According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first national post-debate survey, 43 percent of registered voters said the Democratic candidate won, compared with 26 percent who opted for the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Her 6-point lead over Trump among likely voters is unchanged from our previous survey: Clinton still leads Trump 42 percent to 36 percent in the race for the White House, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson taking 9 percent of the vote."

Twitter Bots Dominated First Debate
9 hours ago

Twitter bots, "automated social media accounts that interact with other users," accounted for a large part of the online discussion during the first presidential debate. Bots made up 22 percent of conversation about Hillary Clinton on the social media platform, and a whopping one third of Twitter conversation about Donald Trump.

Center for Public Integrity to Spin Off Journalism Arm
9 hours ago

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the nonprofit that published the Panama Papers earlier this year, is being spun off from its parent organization, the Center for Public Integrity. According to a statement, "CPI’s Board of Directors has decided that enabling the ICIJ to chart its own course will help both journalistic teams build on the massive impact they have had as one organization."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.