AIR FORCE ONE — Ending a two-week vacation, President Barack Obama is appealing to newly-empowered Republicans to resist jockeying for the White House in 2012 and work with him to get the economy growing and the jobless back to work.
Facing anything but a political soft landing after his holiday stay in Hawaii, Obama told reporters en route to the capital Tuesday that he understands Republicans, who recaptured the House in last fall's elections, "are going to play to their base for a certain period of time."
"But I'm pretty confident that they're going to recognize that our job is to govern and make sure that we are delivering jobs for the American people and that we are creating a competitive economy for the 21st century," the president said.
Not only does Obama face an emboldened Republican caucus in Congress, he also is confronting the first major shake-up of his senior White House staff.
The first weeks of the new year will be an early test of how he will deal with a divided Congress and whether he can build on the victories he secured during the final days of the lame-duck legislative session. And with a host of Republicans readying to run for his job, the administration will simultaneously be laying the groundwork for Obama's re-election bid, which will be operated out of Chicago.
Obama was arriving back in Washington before midday Tuesday, a day before lawmakers on Capitol Hill reconvene. Republicans, having taken control of the House and boosted their seats in the Senate, are promising to take aim at the president's agenda, from his spending plans to his health care overhaul. And they're not wasting any time.
Republicans in the House are planning to vote on a full repeal of Obama's health care law before the president's State of the Union address later this month. However, Democrats will control the Senate and could thwart the repeal drive. And Obama has promised to veto a repeal if it reaches his desk. Even so, Republicans say they will try to starve the overhaul of money and dismantle it piece by piece.
Obama will also face opposition on spending and the debt. Though the president has said the nation's long-term fiscal health must be addressed, he's warned that cutting spending now could be disastrous for the fragile economic recovery.
But conservative Republicans, including many newly elected members of Congress, want to cut spending immediately. The first test of how much Obama is willing to compromise with this wing of the GOP comes in February, when lawmakers have to pass a massive spending bill to keep the government running.
Obama said he hopes that House Speaker-designate John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell "will realize that there will be plenty of time to campaign for 2012 in 2012. And that our job this year is to make sure that we build on recovery."
But 2012, nevertheless, is fast approaching, and he knows it.
Senior adviser David Axelrod plans to head to Chicago this month, with Obama's 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, taking his place at the White House. More staff will follow Axelrod to Chicago, though aides have not yet been asked to commit to making the move.
Obama is also considering naming former Commerce Secretary William Daley to a top White House job, possibly chief of staff, a person familiar with the matter said Monday. Daley, an executive at JPMorgan Chase, would bring extensive private sector experience to a White House seeking to counter the notion that the president is antibusiness.
The person was not authorized to speak publicly on the manner and requested anonymity.
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