Shortly after Obama’s first election, Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Majority Leader, made a now-infamous statement: the goal of Senate Republicans was to see that Obama was not reelected. Still, Obama governed as he campaigned he would: by trying to forge bipartisan consensus as often as possible. The thing is, if a president will be judged by how bipartisan he is and the significance of the legislation he passes, it is very easy for one party to stand in the way. Senate Republicans slowed or blocked Obama’s judicial nominations, just because they could. McConnell even filibustered his own bill when Democrats surprised him by bringing it up for a vote.
So, after a first term with non-stop obstruction, Obama has morphed into Obama 2.0: he gets as much as he can done using Congress as little as possible. His gun reform push was a huge, historic step, but not a lot of what he proposed will make it through the House. Maybe background checks, maybe some money for research on guns, that’s about it. However, Obama has already cashed a solid victory on guns via his 23 executive orders (some of which are pretty tame, but there is plenty of progress contained within).
An equally important issue on which Congress will be equally immobile is climate change. Obama 1.0 mostly stayed away from climate change. There was too much to lose and not enough to gain from pushing it, so outside of some name-checking in speeches, climate change didn’t get much attention. Now, climate change is expected to be Obama’s next major policy push after gun control and immigration, and the New York Times is reporting that Obama is once again looking to do as much as he can through executive order. A carbon tax is arguably great policy (though not without some troubling consequences), but it has no chance of making it through the House, and the Senate could get squeamish on it too. What he can do is create a strong set of EPA regulations without Congress getting their paws on it.
Obama’s evolution to Obama 2.0 was most evident in the debt ceiling talks. In 2011, he negotiated with John Boehner, gave Republicans a sweet deal, which Republicans then rejected. This time around, he simply repeated every time it came up: I will not negotiate on the debt ceiling. He stayed true to that, Republicans saw that Obama had won the public debate, and, eventually, they caved. Obama 2.0 will not cater to Congress’ whiny demands.
Obama 1.0 had lofty aspirations that he was willing to compromise on policy for. Obama 2.0 has learned who he is dealing with, and unless Republicans reach out to him, Obama 2.0 is only going to go to them when he has to, and he won’t give them any inherent legitimacy.
New term, new cabinet, new Obama. Should be an interesting four years.