Obama’s rude awakening

And so it begins.

Barack ObamaBarack ObamaSean Spicer’s most memorable moments as press secretary Trump approval rating sets new low in second quarter: Gallup Spicer critics react gleefully to resignation MORE isn’t president yet, but already, hope and promise have been drowned out by distraction, dissent and even a veto threat. There is heat from all sides in the TARP debate, problems with his Cabinet nominees, criticism of his stimulus package and controversy over his former Senate seat — all before being sworn in.

Some of this was avoidable — picking up the phone to inform the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence before naming Leon Panetta to head the CIA could have been done easily; so, too, with shutting down the Roland Burris circus. Vetting nominees more intensely was certainly an option.

But as he tangles with members of Congress, particularly those of his own party, Obama finds himself stuck in the way business is done in Washington, which he will soon learn is averse to change. For one thing, Congress doesn’t plan on operating as a field office of the Obama administration. After eight years of working for the diminished branch of government, members of Congress have let it be known that they aren’t rolling over — or, for that matter, sitting still. Perhaps Obama adviser David Axelrod was using their exact words when he left a meeting of senators criticizing the stimulus proposal to declare: “These folks are not potted plants. They’re elected officials doing their jobs.”

Unlike Vice President Cheney, the self-appointed fourth branch of government who frequently joined GOP senators at their weekly lunches, Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Dems see huge field emerging to take on Trump Lawmakers send McCain well wishes after cancer diagnosis MORE has been told by his colleagues that when he finally leaves the Senate, he won’t be welcome at such meetings as vice president.

Amid the talk of bipartisan cooperation, Republicans in the Senate and the House have let it be known they will deliver plenty of votes against the release of more Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds. Sure, they’ll keep singing “Kumbaya,” but why should they let a perfectly good issue for the 2010 midterms go to waste?

And amid the smiles and hugs before the flashing cameras, Democrats are flexing their muscles. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidConservative Senate candidate calls on GOP to end filibuster Ex-Reid aide: McConnell's 'original sin' was casting ObamaCare as 'partisan, socialist takeover' GOP faces growing demographic nightmare in West MORE (D-Nev.) wants everyone to know he doesn’t work for Obama, but with him.

And when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) describes how congressional Democrats have actually been working on an economic stimulus package for more than a year, long before Obama drew up his plan, you can see the line she is quietly drawing in the sand. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, have openly questioned the ability of Obama’s stimulus to create jobs. Within 48 hours of Obama backing off a 9/11-type commission to investigate the Bush administration, the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic staff released a report recommending he launch one.

As Obama will also soon learn, the highly controlled, top-secret management that worked so well in the campaign to elect him president won’t serve him as well in governing.

“I would think that in this era of freshness and transparency the new administration would want to come forth with detail instead of this mumbo jumbo that is going on,” Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonGore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere Honda recalls 1.2 million cars over battery fires Vulnerable senators raise big money ahead of 2018 MORE (D-Fla.) grumbled at Peter Orszag during his confirmation hearing for Office of Management and Budget director on Tuesday.

On Tuesday night, Obama was working hard to change the way business is done in Washington, surprising everyone to attend a dinner for conservative columnists at the home of George Will.

We can bet it was a lot more fun than talking with Reid about seating Burris, pleading with members not to vote against the second installment of TARP or searching for a new Commerce secretary. But we don’t know for sure — they didn’t release any details.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.