Obama Pivots to Lawmakers

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from The Wall Street Journal,

New Plan to Advance Policy Goals by Working With Congress Draws Skeptics

The White House plans to pivot from President Barack Obama ’s reliance on executive actions in the coming year and invest more in a legislative strategy aimed at trying to advance key policy goals with the new, Republican-controlled Congress, senior administration officials said.

The new approach reflects a White House acknowledgment that Mr. Obama has already taken some of the most significant executive actions in his arsenal as well as the idea that several of his top priorities might actually be more easily achieved without Democrats in control of the Senate, senior administration officials said.

The question is whether the two sides can get past rancor of the past several years by agreeing to disagree on certain issues where their philosophies’ diverge, and engaging on issues where there is room for compromise.

Republican leaders, aides say, want to work with Mr. Obama but are skeptical that he will compromise and that even if he does, that he will deliver the votes needed from his party.

“If he’s going to run around the country talking about things that have no chance of passing rather than running around the country focusing on the areas where we agree, he’s not going to be very productive,” said Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). “We just had an election on his policies.”

Messrs. Obama and McConnell discussed trade, taxes and infrastructure as areas of compromise during a one-on-one meeting after the November elections.

Mr. Obama’s aim is to draw only a few red lines on issues where he feels strongly, such as efforts to roll back his immigration policies, climate-change initiatives and key provisions of the health-care law, to leave maximum room for negotiating.

And there are some issues, such as energy, where Republicans are expected to put Mr. Obama on the spot right away. They plan to quickly send Mr. Obama legislation approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Mr. Obama has laid the groundwork in recent weeks for rejecting the pipeline, senior administration officials said, by arguing that it is environmentally and economically unsound.

Such a move could antagonize Republicans, who plan to make energy issues a key focus.

“I think that would be a mistake,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the president has been clear that there will be some actions by Congress that he won’t support, “just like some in Congress will oppose steps that we take on our own.”

“But those disagreements should not interfere with the many areas of bipartisan interest where we can work together to get things done for the American people,” Mr. Schultz said.

With Republicans taking control of the Senate and having expanded their majority in the House, Mr. Obama faces an entirely new, and unfamiliar, playing field. As a result, his aides have been devising a strategy likely to include more presidential engagement with lawmakers, senior administration officials said.

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