Obama hopes to boost his legacy without the House and Senate

On the heels of a lackluster year, where President Obama couldn’t get much done with Congress, the White House is hoping to use private and public partnerships, along with executive actions, to add to President Obama’s legacy.  

Obama will highlight the strategy in the next several weeks with a series of events intended to lead up to the State of the Union address on Jan. 28.

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While the president hopes to work with Congress on bigger-ticket issues, such as immigration reform, senior administration officials say Obama recognizes that to get things done, he will have to focus on issues he can do without the House and Senate.

“It’s definitely not a substitute for legislative achievements like immigration,” one senior administration official conceded on the strategy. “But knowing the realities we face, an intransigent Congress, we have to do what we can given our own authority.”

The strategy, administration officials say, would allow Obama to put some points on the scoreboard without having to rely on Republicans in Congress who have no intention of handing the White House victories.

The administration had signaled last year that it would be relying more on executive actions when Obama began his second term. New regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency on climate change, for example, are expected this summer.

Some senior officials have labeled the 2014 strategy as the pen, phone and podium approach. They say Obama will sign executive orders, phone public and private leaders to get them involved in initiatives and use the podium to promote the effort.

The White House has used public-private partnerships before. One prominent effort involved partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other businesses to promote the hiring of veterans.

Obama had also sought to circumvent Congress even before his reelection. In 2011 and early 2012, for example, the White House launched a “We Can’t Wait” campaign to telegraph a strong message that they wouldn’t just be relying on legislative action.

But there is a renewed emphasis in the White House on the work they can do apart from Congress ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

An initial example of the public-private partnerships are five “promise zones” Obama will announce Thursday at the White House. That initiative will mix millions in funding from the Department of Education with private investments to help schools and create new career services in five impoverished areas.

But even some White House allies say Obama was slow to use the public-private approach. Former President Bill Clinton relied on such efforts, for example, during his presidency and in his post presidency as part of the Clinton Global Initiative. And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made use of such efforts during her time in Foggy Bottom.

“The only way you solve problems is to bring all the players in and find common ground between all the players,” said one former senior administration official. “Now, because everything is grinding to a halt, they’re turning to it. But I think they’ve realized people can’t wait for solutions. They realized they don’t have a choice 

“Quite frankly, I’m a little surprised it took them so long to figure it out and use more extensively,” the former senior official added. “I think [Obama] is more legislatively minded. He wasn’t an executive. So I don’t think this comes naturally to him.” 

On Wednesday, Republicans also slammed Obama for not working with Congress.

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee accused of Obama of being “hypocritical.”

“This White House has always found it easier to go around the Constitution when faced with the horrifying prospect of working with people they disagree with,” Kukowski said, adding that, “The go-it-alone approach didn’t work out well on ObamaCare.”

But senior administration officials insist the effort isn’t in lieu of Congress but simply to use all the power they have at their disposal.

Still, political observers say Obama has to walk a fine line in taking the approach.

“It’s a balancing act because he can’t ignore Congress entirely,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “He has got to maintain as good of a relationship as he can.”

With budgets tight, the new effort reflects “a narrowing of Obama’s policy options,” he said.

“He thought the 2012 reelection campaign would break the fever and deal with this newly reelected president, and it didn’t,” Jillson said. “We’re now more than a year into his second term, and he’s realizing the traditional approach isn’t an attractive option.”