Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Crunch time for Obama and Washington

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
April 9, 2013 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: President Barack Obama's legacy could be shaped in a couple of weeks
  • Obama has been reaching out to GOP, seeking progress on budget, guns, immigration
  • She says Obama has been taking risks in the interest of seeking compromise
  • Borger: President's strategy is smart, but is Congress up to the challenge?

Washington (CNN) -- It's not often that a presidential to-do list (and legacy-making agenda) comes down to a couple of key weeks, but here we are: gun control, immigration reform and the budget -- all front and center, right now.

It's an odd time in Washington. The president has been dating Republicans, dining with senators with whom he has hardly spoken in the past. Republicans seem to believe they can actually work with the president -- on immigration, at least.

As for guns, well, some in the GOP seem ready to filibuster an issue -- background checks -- that has overwhelming public support. "That won't do us a lot of good," moans one GOP pollster. "We will look like the party taking extremist positions."

Should anyone be able to buy guns? Share your views

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

Remember how well that worked with women in the last election?

And then there's the budget. The president decided to propose one this year that starts with compromise -- containing some of the entitlement reforms that he worked out with House Speaker John Boehner before the "grand bargain" became the grand failure. A couple of senior GOP pollsters tell me that they can't quite figure out why the president did something guaranteed to annoy his liberal base.

How about this for an answer: When all else fails, it doesn't hurt to look credible. Better yet, it doesn't hurt actually to be credible.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



After all, what's the downside? "When you are dealing with dysfunction, the best you can do is demonstrate that you are reasonable," one senior administration official tells me. "The alternative would be throwing fuel on the flames. We need to be serious here."

It's about time. On all fronts.

Understand this: This is a not a strategy hatched by a bunch of Pollyannas at the White House. It is borne of necessity, and bred with an understanding of a public that has just about had it with Washington. The president played tough in the sequester fight -- calling for new revenues -- and he lost. Now he's not overplaying his hand; he's playing it smart.

Lawmaker: Background checks 'common ground'
Obama: As a society, we must change
Obama launches new gun control push

On immigration, he's hanging back, letting congressional negotiators take the lead. He was called out for doing that on health care reform -- rightly so, allowing top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to manage an unpopular process and produce an unpopular bill. But this time, it's different: Republicans understand that immigration reform has now become a gateway issue. 'It's now a basic way for us to find our way back into national politics," one GOP pollster tells me. "It doesn't solve our problem with Latino voters by itself, but it helps."

Even polls show that a majority of GOP voters -- once opposed to reform -- are now on board with some version of it. The notion of a "pathway to citizenship" still stirs all kinds of fears about amnesty with the GOP base, but that's less of an issue these days: All things considered, any gain in Latino voters outweighs some shrinkage of the base.

It's a trickier route for the president on guns. Barack Obama didn't intend for gun control to be part of his second-term legacy; it came to be after Newtown. And this is an issue, by the way, that splits the Democratic Party more than it splits the GOP. A half-dozen Democratic Senate races in pro-gun states next year could hang in the balance. And if the Democrats lose those senators -- and can't break a GOP filibuster -- it's dangerous for them, too.

Not as dangerous, of course, as the GOP holding up any vote on a gun bill. That, I would argue, could have a great deal of impact on the midterm elections. Why? Because the president will continue to take the issue directly to the voters, 90% of whom agree with him on background checks.

It's a delicate time here in Washington. If nothing happens on guns, for instance, what about the rest of the Obama agenda? "If you can't pass a bill on guns in this environment, what can you ever do?" asks one senior administration official. "It sets the bar so high for anything, people will be demoralized."

The result? Retreat. Maybe some sort of immigration reform passes (it's in everyone's self-interest) but no tax reform. No serious entitlement reform. Nothing big on the agenda, just small-scale items.

Perfect for politicians unable to respond to crisis, much less the will of the people.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT