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
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT