Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
President Obama after his first Cabinet meeting following the mid-term elections.
President Obama knows Tuesday's midterm elections have set the stage for political stalemate over the next two years now that Republicans will control the House.
But he appeared intent on positioning himself as reasonable, only seeking to do the work of the American people even in his new, weaker circumstances, at least on domestic affairs.
To that end, his remarks after a cabinet meeting are part of the continued olive branch of bipartisanship he wants to be seen extending to congressional Republicans. If anyone gets blamed for the expected legislative gridlock of the next two years, he doesn't want it to be him.
The president said will have Congress' four top leaders over to the White House on Nov. 18 in a meeting he promises will be more than a photo op. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) the man expected to be the next House speaker, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) may even stay for dinner, depending on how long the meeting goes. Obama indicated.
I mentioned yesterday we have to act in order to assure that middle-class families don’t see a big tax spike because of how the big tax cuts have been structured. It is very important that we extend those middle-class tax provisions to hold middle-class families harmless.
But there are a whole range of other economic issues that have to be addressed: unemployment insurance for folks who are still out there looking for work; business extenders, which are essentially provisions to encourage businesses to invest here in the United States, and if we don’t have those, we’re losing a very important tool for us to be able to increase business investment and increase job growth over the coming year.
We’ve got to provide businesses some certainty about what their tax landscape is going to look like, and we’ve got to provide families certainty. That’s critical to maintain our recovery.
I should mention that in addition to those economic issues, there are some things during the lame duck that relate to foreign policy that are going to be very important for us to deal with, and I’ll make mention of one in particular, and that’s the START treaty.
We have negotiated with the Russians significant reductions in our nuclear arms. This is something that traditionally has received strong bipartisan support. We’ve got people like George Shultz, who helped to organize arms control treaties with the Russians back when it was the Soviet Union who have come out forcefully in favor of this.
This is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue but rather a issue of American national security. And I am hopeful that we can get that done before we leave and send a strong signal to Russia that we are serious about reducing nuclear arsenals, but also sending a signal to the world that we’re serious about nonproliferation.
The president noted that he would soon be leaving for Asia and South Asia on what is largely a trade mission meant to boost the economic prospects of U.S. companies and workers.
He noted that the developing countries that increasingly compete economically with the U.S., especially China and India, wouldn't be slowing their efforts to be even competitive with the U.S. So the U.S. couldn't afford to slow down either.
It allowed him to reprise comments he made when he stumped for Democratic candidates on the campaign trail.
So, in sum, we’ve got a lot of work to do. People are still catching their breath from the election. The dust is still settling. But the one thing I’m absolutely certain of is that the American people don’t want us just standing still and they don’t want us engaged in gridlock. They want us to do the people’s business, partly because they understand that the world is not standing still.
If gridlock happens despite his public pleas for bipartisanship, such comments as Thursday's will allow Obama to argue that he reached out but was rebuffed by Republicans.
He will be able to then run for re-election against a do-nothing Congress just as President Truman did in 1948.