Fri, Nov 07, 2014 - Page 9 News List

US President Obama left fighting for relevancy after midterms

By Peter Baker  /  NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

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.

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