“Guys, I don’t want politics to be a limit of what you recommend to me,” Obama told senior aides David Plouffe, Lew, Dan Pfeiffer and Pete Rouse a couple of weeks after his reelection, according to a White House aide with direct knowledge of the meeting.
“Let’s come up with an agenda, then let’s figure it out from there as best we can,” he said, prodding them to adopt a more muscular approach to the use of executive power. “We can’t let the driving force of what we pass be Congress.”
The year started off on a relative high note: Obama wooed about a dozen Senate Republicans — the handful most alarmed by their party’s precipitous slide in national elections — and secured a landmark increase of taxes on the wealthy.
Then came bitter defeat on gun control, as he unsuccessfully sought to leverage outrage over the Newtown, Conn., school shooting into legislative action, and a series of humbling crises — Libya, the IRS and Justice Department controversies, the firestorm over the Edward Snowden leaks and NSA surveillance, and out-of-control events in Syria and Egypt.
The flexible strategy favored by Obama and his staff, however pragmatic, had one major drawback: It underscored the impression, fair or not, that the presidency was aging prematurely and that Obama was losing power at a time when most second-term presidents were most effective.