Two things were clear long before the votes were counted on Tuesday night: US President Barack Obama would face a US Congress with more Republicans for his final two years in office and the results would be seen as a repudiation of his leadership.
However, that was not the way Obama saw it. The electoral map was stacked against him, making Democrats underdogs from the start, he said. In addition, his own party kept him off the trail, meaning he never really got the chance to make his case.
“You’re in the final four,” as one aide put it, “and you’re on the bench with a walking boot and you don’t get to play.”
The Republican capture of the US Senate culminated a season of discontent for the president — and might yet open a period of even deeper frustration. Sagging in the polls and unwelcome in most competitive races across the nation, Obama bristled as the last campaign that would influence his presidency played out while he sat largely on the sidelines. He privately complained that it should not be a judgement on him.
“He doesn’t feel repudiated,” the aide said on Tuesday night.
However, in a hyperactive, deeply polarized time in history, Obama faces a daunting challenge in reasserting his relevance in a capital that is set to soon shift its attention to the battle to succeed him. If the hope-and-change phase of his presidency is long over, he wants at least to produce a period of progress and consolidation to complete his time in the White House.
He began that effort yesterday when he held a news conference and talked of conciliation with Republicans, and he plans to host Republican and Democratic leaders at the White House today. At the same time, Obama is eager to throw off the constraints of a campaign that he did not direct and begin to defend his record in a more robust way, aides said.
“He’s going to be aggressive. He’s ready to go,” said another senior official, who like others did not want to be identified discussing plans before the election results were tabulated. “We’ve got a lot of important stuff to get done in the lame duck. He’ll talk about that tomorrow. We’ve got a lot of important stuff to get done in the last two years. He’s anxious to get going on that.”
To Republicans, it sounded as if Obama was hardly chastened or heeding the message of the election, evidently more eager to find excuses than to rethink the way he has governed. Absent a change in attitude from the president and a genuine outreach on issues that matter to them, the next two years could simply usher in even more political squabbling, Republicans said.
“There’s a huge opportunity to get things done if his frame of mind is in the right place, and it’s not clear it is,” said Sara Taylor Fagen, who was former US president George W. Bush’s political director when he lost Congress in 2006. “He’s never shown an interest or willingness to work with members of Congress. Talk to Democrats — they don’t feel he ever made an effort to court them. It’s not clear he’ll make an effort to court Republicans.”
Republican representative Adam Kinzinger said both parties needed to find a way to get past their mutual suspicions to forge a new working relationship.
“He feels burned, and we feel burned too,” Kinzinger said. “For four years, it’s been a lot of mistrust on both sides.”
Just two years after Obama’s re-election, the midterm results underscored just how far he has fallen in the public mind. Nearly 6 out of 10 voters on Tuesday expressed negative feelings about his administration, according to exit polls. For every two voters who said they had cast ballots to support Obama, three said they were voting to express their opposition to him.
The electorate was deeply pessimistic about the nation, with 7 out of 10 describing the economy as not so good or poor and 8 out of 10 expressing worry about the direction of the economy in the next year.
Numbers like that discouraged Obama’s aides, who said they had not done a good job reporting the president’s record, saying that the deficit has fallen by half, unemployment is now below 6 percent, the price of gasoline has fallen sharply and the economy is growing at a decent rate.
Obama and US Vice President Joe Biden talked about that at a lunch last week, according to an administration official, and Biden later gave voice to it in a CNN interview aired on Monday.
“We have to be more direct and clear about exactly what it is we’re looking to do,” Biden said.
However, Obama was focused on the odds against him. His staff researched it and told him that no president in more than a half-century had as many Senate seats open in states lost by the president.
“This is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower,” Obama told WNPR radio in Connecticut on Tuesday.
In those red states, Obama was politically toxic and deferred to candidates who asked him to stay away. In the last days of the campaign, he visited just five states, compared with 10 states visited by Bush in similar circumstances in 2006.
“The White House concluded that it should be the responsibility of those individuals who have their names at the top of the ballot to drive the strategy,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Obama understood in some cases, but privately resented others.
“We think that was a mistake,” one aide said.
Obama’s irritation became clear when he said publicly that even if he was not on the ballot, his policies were, a comment that Republicans gleefully wrapped around the necks of their Democratic opponents. So Obama held his tongue, but privately kept quizzing his political director, David Simas, about the latest information on early voting.
Obama had long ago given up hope that he would be able to push through some of his priorities before leaving office. He told a former aide several weeks ago that he knew he would never be able to expand prekindergarten as he had once hoped and that he regretted it. However, he hopes for possible deals on corporate taxes, trade and infrastructure, and he plans to use the lame-duck session of the departing Democratic Senate to push through as many nominations as possible.
Whether Republicans are open to dealing with him in the new year remains uncertain. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and other conservatives are set to resist. However, Speaker John Boehner is scheduled to have one of the largest House Republican caucuses in modern times, giving him more room to maneuver because he can afford to lose some dissenters if he makes common cause with Obama.
Former White House adviser to Obama Anita Dunn said that voters on Tuesday were just as negative about Republican leaders as they were about Obama. In the end voters were eager not for more failure, but for progress by both parties, she said.
“The message for anybody who’s in power is that voters are looking for a change in how they approach getting things done,” she said.
An outrageous dismissal of the exemplary Taiwanese fight against COVID-19 has been perpetrated by the EU. There is no excuse. I presume that everyone who reads the Taipei Times knows that the EU has excluded Taiwan from its so-called “safe list,” which permits citizens unhindered travel to and from the countries of the EU. As the EU does not feel that it needs to explain the character of this exclusive list, perhaps we should examine it ourselves in some detail. There are 14 nations on the list that have been chosen as safe countries of origin and safe countries of destination for
Filmmakers in Taiwan used to struggle when it came to telling a story that could resonate internationally. Things started to change when the 2017 drama series The Teenage Psychic (通靈少女), a collaboration between HBO Asia and Taiwanese Public Television Service (PTS), became a huge hit not just locally, but also internationally. The coming-of-age story was adapted from the 2013 PTS-produced short film The Busy Young Psychic (神算). Entirely filmed in Taiwan, the Mandarin-language series even made it on HBO’s streaming platforms in the US. It is proof that a well-told Taiwanese story can absolutely win the hearts and minds of hard-to-please
Drugged with sedatives, handcuffed and wearing a bright orange prison tunic, British fraud investigator and former journalist Peter Humphrey was escorted by warders into an interrogation room filled with reporters, locked inside a steel cage and fastened to a metal “tiger chair.” Humphrey recalls: “I was completely surrounded by officers, dazed, manacled and with cameras pointing at me through the bars. I was fighting for my life like a caged animal. It was horrifying.” Footage from the interrogation was later artfully edited to give the appearance of a confession and broadcast on Chinese state media. While this might sound like an
The US House of Representatives on July 1 passed by unanimous consent a bipartisan bill that would penalize Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s new national security legislation in Hong Kong, as well as banks that do business with them. The following day, the US Senate unanimously passed the bill, which was later sent to the White House, where it awaits US President Donald Trump’s signature. The bill does not spell out what the sanctions would look like and Trump has yet to sign it into law, but Reuters on Thursday last week reported that five major Chinese state lenders are considering