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
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT