Washington (AFP) – With soaring ambitions trimmed, the White House is charting a dogged course to repair President Barack Obama’s popularity and to limit a natural waning of his political powers.
Obama endured a brutal 2013 — which crushed the promise of much of his second White House term and pitched his approval ratings to 40 percent or below.
For once, his Hawaii Christmas vacation was uninterrupted by crises at home or abroad, and the president and his stuff — running on empty in December — were able to recharge.
Several new faces have also joined his famously insular White House crew, as the reenergized president tries to fashion a rebound in frigid Washington.
He took the stage Tuesday in his first public appearance of the New Year, demanding an extension to long-term unemployment benefits, which lapsed for 1.3 million Americans when Congress left town for Christmas without acting.
The event repositioned Obama as the warrior for the struggling middle classes — and Republicans as their hard hearted enemy — a tableau that swept him to reelection in 2012.
“When times get tough, we are not a people who say, you’re on your own,” Obama said.
“We’re a people who believe that we’re all in it together. And we know, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.'”
It was perhaps the opening shot of this year’s mid-term elections race in which a third of the Senate, and all of the House of Representatives will be up for grabs.
His words also played into a growing theme in American politics — the struggles of many people to make ends meet despite a quickening but uneven economic recovery.
The White House was Tuesday cheered by an early symbolic victory, after six Republican senators joined Democrats in the Senate to advance the move to extend unemployment benefits to a final vote.
The measure still faces a difficult path in the House, reflecting the cold reality of Obama’s presidency — that Republicans have power to block or slow much of his agenda.
A year ago, Obama acted as though his handsome reelection win could rewire political dynamics in divided Washington and help him overpower Republicans.
But after 12 months of struggle, which saw his aspirations for gun reforms, job creation measures and immigration reform stall on Capitol Hill, and a government shutdown and a near debt default, his aspirations appear to have narrowed.
Senior administration officials now argue that the success of Obama’s administration can no longer be judged entirely on what laws make it through Congress.
An senior Obama lieutenant said Tuesday on condition of anonymity that the president would fire off a executive actions on climate change and other issues that did not need agreement from Congress.