President Barack Obama, now facing the consequences of automatic spending cuts and the complications they raise for his broader domestic agenda, is taking the most specific steps of his administration in an attempt to ensure the election of a Democratic-controlled Congress in two years.
“What I can’t do is force Congress to do the right thing,” Obama said Friday after a fruitless meeting with Republican leaders to avert the country’s latest fiscal crisis, known as the sequester. “The American people may have the capacity to do that.”
Obama and his advisers believe that winning a Democratic majority in the House in 2014 is crucial to the outcome of his second term and to his legacy as president.
He has committed to raising money for fellow Democrats, agreed to help recruit viable candidates and begun a political nonprofit group dedicated to furthering his agenda and that of his congressional allies. The goal is to flip the Republican-held House back to Democratic control, allowing Obama to push forward with a progressive agenda on gun control, immigration, climate change and the economy during his final two years in office, according to congressional Democrats, strategists and others familiar with Obama’s thinking.
“The president understands that to get anything done, he needs a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “To have a legacy in 2016, he will need a House majority in 2014, and that work has to start now.”
Democrats would have to gain 17 House seats to win back the majority they lost in 2010, and their challenge involves developing a persuasive argument for why the party deserves another chance controlling both Congress and the presidency. In the last election, American voters reaffirmed the political status quo in Washington, retaining a divided government.
Welcome, Know-Nothings: The new Congress is a bunch of ignoramuses when it comes to foreign policy. That’s probably a good thing
The 113th Congress has just been sworn in, and it’s a safe bet that it will be no more engaged with foreign policy, and no more competent to serve as a useful check on the Obama administration, than was its predecessor. This is mostly a prerogative of the opposition, and congressional Republicans have paid remarkably little attention to President Barack Obama’s conduct of foreign affairs. Last month, they roused themselves to block confirmation of a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled, which apparently posed a grave threat to the nation’s sovereignty. In recent weeks, of course, the GOP has lashed itself into a fury over the September 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, laboring to gin up a tragic mishap into a full-fledged scandal. But on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, China, and the war on terror — not much. Really, it’s been a blessing.
It has not always been so, of course. While foreign policy, unlike domestic policy, does not normally depend on legislation or congressional authorization, thus giving far greater latitude to the executive branch, presidents have often had to face stiff resistance from Congress. President Lyndon Johnson provoked a storm of opposition on Capitol Hill when he escalated the Vietnam War; William Fulbright, a fellow Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), impaneled a series of hearings that showcased devastating critiques of Johnson’s conduct of the war. Politicians on both sides of the aisle believed that Johnson had hoodwinked them into supporting the Gulf of Tonkin resolution enabling the escalation; many of them vowed never again to automatically defer to the president’s authority to conduct foreign policy.
In the mid-1970s, Democratic Senator Frank Church conducted spectacular hearings into the CIA’s history of assassinations. Republicans fought President Jimmy Carter every step of the way on his human rights policy and support for left-leaning regimes in Latin America. When Ronald Reagan reversed Carter’s policies in order to back anti-Communist insurgents, a Democratic-controlled Congress passed the Boland Amendment banning military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. It was this prohibition that Reagan tried to evade with the elaborate subterfuge known as Iran-Contra — which was itself fully exposed to the public in the Senate’s weeks-long Iran-Contra hearings that made Oliver North a household name. Had President Richard Nixon’s impeachment not been fresh in everyone’s minds, Democrats might well have moved to impeach Reagan over the lies required to conduct a secret foreign policy.