WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will work with Congress where he can and circumvent lawmakers where he must, his top advisers warned in previewing the Jan. 28 of the Union policy speech.
Obama faces a politically divided Congress and will use his annual address to demand expanded economic opportunity. Absent legislative action, the White House is telling lawmakers that the president is ready to take unilateral action to close the inequality gap between rich and poor Americans.
“I think the way we have to think about this year is we have a divided government,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a longtime Obama adviser. “The Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president’s agenda. The President is not going to sign the Republican Congress’ agenda.”
So the White House is eying compromise on some priorities, Obama advisers said. But the President is also looking at executive orders that can be enacted without Congress’ approval.
“The President sees this as a year of action to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
The act-or-else posture upset Republicans. “The president has sort of hung out on the left and tried to get what he wants through the bureaucracy as opposed to moving to the political center,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican Senate leader.
Added Republican Sen. Rand Paul: “It sounds vaguely like a threat, and I think it also has a certain amount of arrogance.”
With campaigns for November’s election on the horizon, there’s scant reason for the White House to be optimistic about Republican support for measures to revive a bipartisan immigration bill that has passed the Senate, an increased minimum wage or expanding prekindergarten programs.
Republicans looking to wrest control of the Senate and keep their majority in the House of Representatives instead want to keep the focus on the struggling economy and Obama’s stewardship of it.
Republicans are pinning hopes that voter frustration remains high and Democrats on the ballot get punished for Obama’s tenure. Republicans are also trying to capitalize on the troubled launch of Obama’s signature health care reform late last year.
“His economic policies are not working,” said Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
The White House has been signaling to Republicans that it would not wait for Congress to act. It also is betting Obama’s backers will rally behind his plans.
“When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress,” Pfeiffer wrote in an email to Obama supporters Saturday.
Following the speech, Obama will travel to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee to promote the proposals he introduces evening.
Pfeiffer appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and Fox News Sunday. Carney spoke with ABC’s This Week. McConnell was interviewed on Fox. Paul spoke with CNN and NBC’s Meet the Press. Cruz spoke to CBS’ Face the Nation.