Obama caught off guard

2013-05-01 14:46


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Washington - "Golly."

That was Barack Obama, flabbergasted at a variant of a question all US presidents get sooner or later -- are you still relevant?

Obama appeared taken aback when asked at a White House news conference whether he still had the "juice" to get his agenda through clogged up Congress.

"Maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly," said Obama, probably thinking the question impertinent, since he is only three months into his second term.

"As Mark Twain said, rumours of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point," Obama said.

Yet Obama, even as he has woos lawmakers with trips up Capitol Hill and intimate dinners, can barely contain his contempt for Congress, which blocks him at every turn and threatens his hopes for a robust second-term.

"My charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what's going on in Congress -- it turns out, absolutely nothing," Obama said Saturday.

The president's joke, at the White House Correspondents dinner, betrayed frustration at banging his head against a congressional brick wall.

"You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave," Obama told reporters Tuesday, in a snipe at lawmakers.

In March, he had told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moments after touching down in Tel Aviv: "it's good to get away from Congress."

Obama's cynicism is distilled from disappointment: he said while running for re-election last year that his victory could cause the Republican "fever" to break and catalyze more cooperation in Congress.

Some hope.

Apart from an end-of-year deal on allowing Bush-era tax cuts on the rich to expire, Republicans have dug in their heels on multiple fronts.

Obama's gun reform drive after the Newtown school massacre foundered mostly on Republican opposition - though some conservative Democrats peeled away.

Chances of a deficit-cutting "grand bargain" are slim and discord between Obama and Republicans triggered $87 billion in automatic spending cuts known as the "sequester."

Obama vowed to make a new push to close Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday - but the odds that Congress will change its mind and let him do so are extreme.

One ray of light though is Obama's top second-term priority - immigration reform which key Senate Republicans know they must support if they are to win back Hispanic voters and have a viable path in future presidential elections.

The legislation's prospects in the Republican-led House of Representatives, though appear unclear.

All second term presidents race the clock as their influence wanes.

Former George W Bush advisor Karen Hughes, who saw her boss fail in his second term to reform immigration and social security, told NBC Sunday that re-elected presidents have only a year to pass their programme.

Still, while Obama's influence may ebb at home - the US commander-in-chief is never irrelevant and second term presidents often look abroad to build their legacies.

Obama parried questions Tuesday about whether he will intervene in Syria, after the apparent use of chemical weapons there contravened a "red line" he laid down last year.

He must also make hugely consequential decisions on Iran's nuclear program and the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

His covert drone war will likely continue to the end of his presidency in 2017 and he is expected to travel this year to Europe twice, mount a major African tour and return to Asia in October.

And as the Boston bombings and other recent tragedies showed, the US president often takes on a role of national counseler.

Earlier presidents can also testify that sometimes the press is too early to confer lame duck status.

"The president is relevant here," president Bill Clinton declared in April 1995, during a miserable political run.

A day later, a bomb ripped through a federal building in Oklahoma City sparking a national crisis that not only showcased Clinton's relevancy, but helped him relaunch his presidency - and win re-election.

In October, 2007, Bush vowed "I'm going to sprint to the finish, and finish this job strong, that's one way to ensure that I am relevant."

The following year, amid the election for the man who would replace him, Bush was back at center stage, flexing the powers of the presidency to try to stave off a financial meltdown.

And if any president ran to the finish it was Clinton, who unsuccessfully pursued a deals on Middle East peace, and ending North Korea's missile program, right up to the end.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us

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