Take immigration: the president has long wanted to tackle comprehensive immigration legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. But without Congress going along, he's limited in what he can do, as he himself acknowledged Monday night at a fundraiser at the home of Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas.
"We have a system that is broken, and we are doing everything we can administratively to try to lessen the pain and the hardship that it's causing," the president said. "...But again, I'm going to need your help. Because we're not going to be able to get this done by ourselves."
Congress has shown only rare signs of late of giving the president what he wants, agreeing recently to three long-delayed free trade deals, as well as a bill overhauling the patent system. Republicans may well agree to some elements in Obama's jobs bill, including extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits. But the outlook for major legislative achievements is dim for the rest of Obama's term, and so the White House intends to stay focused on highlighting congressional inaction and the steps Obama can take on his own. Announcements are planned weekly through the end of the year, sometimes on items so narrow they affect individual communities.
Obama's hardly the first president to go small.
Then-President Bill Clinton proposed dozens of small-bore programs such as supporting school uniforms in his successful 1996 re-election campaign, low-cost initiatives designed to appeal to targeted voters. George W. Bush promoted volunteering and foster care, issues that allowed him to trumpet his "compassionate conservative" credentials without spending too much political capital.
Executive power and the bully pulpit can be potent tools for presidents, ones that Congress and campaign-trail opponents can never take away. For Obama, hemmed in by a rambunctious House GOP majority and a Republican Party thirsting to take his job next year, they may be among the few strategies he has left.
"I do think he's going to continue to do more of this, and I do think the voters will say at least you're trying here," said Brendan Daly, former spokesman to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and now a public relations executive at Ogilvy Washington. "He's the president. He's got to try to do everything he can."
Editors Note: Kuhnhenn reported from Los Angeles; Werner from Washington
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