President Obama bristled during a press conference on Tuesday when asked whether his second-term agenda is failing after the first 100 days.
Coming off defeats on the issues of gun control and sequestration and facing an uphill battle on immigration reform, Obama was pressed on whether he still had the “juice” to get things accomplished in Washington.
“Maybe I should just pack up and go home,” Obama shot back. “Golly. You know, I think it’s a little, as Mark Twain said, you know, ‘Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated’ at this point.”
The remark was a far cry from the triumphant tone heard in 2009, when Obama proclaimed he was “proud of what we’ve achieved” and “pleased with our progress” after 100 days in the Oval Office.
Now, constrained by a House Republican majority that rejects his agenda, the president was left Tuesday to explain why his reelection victory hasn’t translated into legislative success.
Fielding questions from reporters for just the third time this year, Obama lashed out at the GOP — and House Republicans in particular — for resisting his proposals while conceding that his efforts to channel public pressure against Congress have come up short.
“I cannot force Republicans to embrace those common-sense solutions. I can urge them to. I can put pressure on them. I can, you know, rally the American people around those common-sense solutions. But ultimately they, themselves, are going to have to say ‘we want to do the right thing.’ ”
The press conference came just a few weeks after the defeat of a bipartisan Senate bill that would have expanded universal background checks. The president put much of his second-term political capital behind the effort, only to see the bill go down amid opposition from Republicans and some Democrats facing reelection in 2014.
He suffered a similar defeat on sequestration, which began on March 1 despite a sustained campaign by the White House to gin up outrage about the impact of the spending cuts on government services and the economy.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders labeled Obama the “roadshow president” during the sequester battle, and criticized him for making campaign-style appearances that they said poisoned the well for his second term.
Obama insisted Tuesday that his warnings about the cuts from sequestration — which will total $85 billion this year — are coming true.
“Despite the fact that a lot of members of Congress were suggesting that somehow the sequester was a victory for them and this wouldn’t hurt the economy, what we now know is, that what I warned earlier ... is happening,” Obama said.
Obama’s criticism of Congress wasn’t constrained to the battle over budgets Tuesday; he faced questions about two holdovers from his first term, the prison at Guantánamo Bay and healthcare reform, as well.
Pressed on the failure to close Cuba’s Guantánamo facility, a promise from his first presidential run, Obama said: “Ultimately we’re also going to need some help from Congress” to do that.
As to growing concerns about the implementation of his healthcare reform law, Obama complained about the “half of Congress who is determined to try to block implementation and not adequately funding implementation.”
The president also conceded that, “even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be glitches and bumps” when the healthcare overhaul is implemented.
Republicans seized on the admission, mocking the “glitches and bumps” in a post to the Republican National Committee’s YouTube page.
“Um, can you say understatement of the decade?” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) wrote on Twitter.
The president is trying to regain his footing as the window narrows for major legislation in his second term.
The surge in popularity that Obama enjoyed after his reelection has faded, and his outreach efforts to Republican lawmakers have yet to produce any breakthroughs.
On Tuesday, he said the flurry of dinners and lunches he’s had with Republicans have resulted in some “good conversations,” and expressed hope that bipartisan deal-making could result.
“I think there’s a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only sequester, but Washington dysfunction,” the president said.
But GOP lawmakers have reported little progress on a “grand bargain” and say Obama’s insistence on tax increases stands in the way of necessary reforms to entitlement programs and government spending.
Acknowledging the challenges ahead, Obama insisted that he would find a way forward on the remaining policy goals of his second term, putting particular emphasis on immigration.
“I feel confident that the bipartisan work that’s been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate, passes the House, and gets on my desk,” Obama said. “And that’s going to be an historic achievement.”
— This story was first posted at 11:22 a.m. and has been updated.