Bolder Obama ready to take on GOP

Bolder Obama ready to take on GOP
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President Obama is ready to take on the new Republican Congress that will come to power on Tuesday.

White House officials feel emboldened headed into what Obama has described as the “fourth quarter” of his presidency.

Promising economic news, declining gas prices, and a flurry of executive actions that energized his liberal base have provided him with his best poll numbers in more than a year.

Aides and strategists believe this provides opportunity for him, even with Republicans taking control of both the House and Senate on Tuesday for the first time since 2006.

“Really for the first time in his time in office, the president has the economic winds at his back — and not in his face,” Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said.

If the winds continue to blow in Obama’s direction — no sure thing, as evidenced by the 300-point drop Monday in the Dow Jones industrial average — Obama’s White House will be able to stay on offense, Lehane said.

The administration is planning new executive actions and legislative proposals in the buildup to his State of the Union address at the end of the month. It is also staking out areas where the president will aggressively use his veto authority. 

At the White House on Monday, spokesman Josh Earnest voiced optimism about the president’s approach and appeared to relish the chance to go on offense against Republicans.

Three times during his daily briefing, he noted that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is fielding fire for his appearance before a white supremacist group, had reportedly described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”

GOP support for Scalise, Earnest said, would say a lot about the party’s “priorities and values.”

The spokesman also poked fun at incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (R-Ky.), who told The Washington Post that “the single best thing” Republicans could do over the next two years is convince the American people that electing a Republican president and Congress in 2016 would not “be a scary outcome.”

It was “not exactly the highest ceiling I can imagine for their legislative accomplishments this year,” Earnest said.

A White House looking to burnish Obama’s legacy in his final two years in office is aware that, if a Democrat wins the Oval Office in 2016, it will be a win for Obama.

Publicly, Earnest and other White House officials dodge questions about the importance of the 2016 race and say they are focused on governing over the next two years.

But the president has already met on multiple occasions with former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick Texas Supreme Court rejects Alex Jones request to toss lawsuits from Sandy Hook parents Paris Agreement: Biden's chance to restore international standing MORE, the perceived front-runner for his party’s nomination to succeed him, including a meeting just over a month ago at the White House. Those visits highlight both how important winning in 2016 is to the White House and of staying on the same page as Clinton.

“President Obama has a lot of work to do getting his party ready for 2016,” Princeton University political historian Julian Zelizer said. “The question is if he’s interested in doing that — in lots of moments through his presidency, people have questioned whether he’s interested in being a party builder.”

Strategists say the best way Obama can help his preferred successor is to trumpet his own economic record in the hope it will bolster a Democratic candidate in 2016.

“The best thing he can do for Hillary Clinton or any other Democratic nominee is setting the table with continuing economic growth,” said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf.

On Wednesday, Obama will head to Detroit to tout the recovery of American auto manufacturers at a Ford plant. The next day, the president heads to Phoenix, where he’ll announce new steps designed to help make home ownership more accessible to most Americans. And he will travel to Tennessee next week with Vice President Biden to discuss new college and job training initiatives.

Every step of the way, Republicans will be challenging Obama’s preferred narrative, arguing that the president’s policies have held back the economy.

The first piece of business Senate Republicans are likely to send to the president is legislation approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, something they say the White House should have greenlit years ago.

They are also planning to tackle unpopular or vulnerable parts of the healthcare law that they say have been a drag on the economy, such as a tax on medical devices.

There are also pitfalls for Obama on the left, particularly as he seeks to move forward with a trade agenda opposed by liberals such as Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenStudent loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Mass.). Warren has also led opposition to an Obama pick for the Treasury Department seen by the left as too closely tied to Wall Street.

Still, Democrats are largely encouraged by the president’s new approach — and a more aggressive White House. 

“Every day and every week, there is a plan based on motion, action and execution,” Lehane said.