Post-Election Bipartisanship? The Outlook Isn't Good On the campaign trail lately, President Obama has been saying he expects more bipartisanship after this year's election. That has some veteran political observers wondering where that belief comes from. They see compromise as less likely, not more, after Tuesday's vote.
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Post-Election Bipartisanship? The Outlook Isn't Good

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Post-Election Bipartisanship? The Outlook Isn't Good

Post-Election Bipartisanship? The Outlook Isn't Good

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We are just days from midterm elections when Democrats are expected to lose seats in Congress. First this hour to what happens after next Tuesday. President Obama has said he hopes Republicans will cooperate more, as NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: As President Obama travels the country urging Democrats to vote in the midterms, he summarizes the last two years this way: Republicans drove the economy into the ditch, he says time and again. And then they decided not to help the Democrats dig it out. Here he was in Seattle last week.

President BARACK OBAMA: Every once awhile we look up and the Republicans are up there on the road, they're just waving and

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: They're going around whispering to everybody. They're not pushing hard enough. They're not pushing the right way. And we say to them, well, why don't you come down here and help push? No, no, no, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: But push harder, push harder.

SHAPIRO: According to President Obama's storyline, Republicans made a savvy political calculation to sit on the sidelines. And lately he has been telling people that he expects a different dynamic next year.

Pres. OBAMA: My hope is is that as we look forward, let's say, on education or on energy, some of the things that we haven't yet finished, that we're going to have a greater spirit of cooperation after this next election.

SHAPIRO: That was from a recent MTV town hall discussion. The president has said the same thing in interviews, as has his press secretary Robert Gibbs. But some veteran political observers wonder where that belief in bipartisanship comes from.

Mr. ERIC MOGILNICKI (Former Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy): I think anyone who made the calculation that obstructionism would work in the first two years of the administration isn't going to change their math during the second two years of the administration.

SHAPIRO: This is Eric Mogilnicki, who was chief of staff to the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. Kennedy was known as a liberal lion who could also reach across the aisle to work with Republicans on legislation. Mogilnicki says that's partly because Kennedy had long personal relationships built on trust with many senators from both parties.

Mr. MOGILNICKI: If you look at the Senate now and the Senate as it's probably going to look in January, there are an awful lot of people who are new to the Senate and who have no particular allegiance to its traditions and are not going to be looking for ways to compromise. They're going to be looking for ways to make a political point.

SHAPIRO: Even on the Democratic side, moderates such as Byron Dorgan and Evan Bayh are leaving, making for a less centrist caucus. And liberal activists have already criticized President Obama for caving too much to his centrist impulses. On the Republican side, Tea Party-backed candidates who came to power without the help of Republican Party leadership have little incentive to cooperate with the establishment now. And Republicans see this election as a sign that Americans don't want Congress to sign on to the Obama agenda.

Mr. JACK HOWARD (Former White House Liaison to Congress): I think the lesson coming out of this election is that the Republicans would expect the president to work with them on their agenda.

SHAPIRO: Jack Howard was the White House's liaison to Congress in both Bush presidencies. He also worked for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Howard says if President Obama believes Republicans will come on board with the White House agenda next year, the president has it backwards.

Mr. HOWARD: If the White House takes from this that we're going to spend the next two years doing more of the same, then they're not going to get anywhere.

SHAPIRO: The prospects for bipartisanship seemed to dim even further this week when the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, told the´┐ŻNational Journal, quote, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Democrats are running with that, repeating McConnell's quote as part of their election strategy in the last days of the midterm campaign. Even some senior White House officials seem to think the president's dream of bipartisanship will evaporate in the daylight.

Adviser David Axelrod spoke with reporters at the White House last week.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Adviser, Obama Administration): Now, it could be that on Election Day, a lightning bolt will come down and the skies will then open and people will be imbued with a new sense of responsibility and public-spiritedness, and I hope that's true. But I think it's fair to say that these guys have made it very, very clear that they want to roll the clock back, and we've made it very clear we are fighting to stop them from doing it.

SHAPIRO: That could just be pre-election partisanship. Or it could be a sign that Washington's kumbaya moment is a bit farther off than Obama suggests.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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