President Obama’s first full day in Washington after his re-election was one of his least visible in memory, even as cries intensified on Capitol Hill for action to deal with the government’s looming fiscal disaster.
After a marathon campaign, Mr. Obama took his time getting back to governing Thursday, with only one event on his schedule — a routine national security briefing in the Oval Office in late morning. Neither the president nor his chief spokesman, Jay Carney, who took the day off from his usual briefing with the White House press corps, appeared in public all day.
The few reporters who showed up at the White House Thursday spotted the first family’s dog, Bo, twice but had no sightings of the chief executive.
The president did receive congratulatory phone messages from world leaders, and he spoke to 13 of them, including Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The White House announced late Thursday that Mr. Obama will make a statement in the East Room on Friday afternoon “about the action we need to take to keep our economy growing and reduce our deficit.”
Mr. Obama’s top supporters, Democrats on Capitol Hill, and even some prominent Republicans say the president now has far more leverage to push his agenda of increasing taxes on high earners as a way to address the impending crisis. With a mix of automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect in a little more than seven weeks, House Speaker John A. Boehner has implored the president to take charge of the crisis.
“Mr. President, this is your moment,” the Ohio Republican said Wednesday. “Let’s challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us.”
The president seemed to agree in his victory speech in the early hours Wednesday morning that he has earned a bargaining chip, although he has been careful not to say so directly since then.
“You made your voice heard,” Mr. Obama told supporters in Chicago, an indication that he thinks the majority of the country backs his ideas.
David Plouffe, senior adviser to the president, said the election has given Mr. Obama an obvious edge in achieving his goal of “balanced” deficit reduction.
“Voters clearly chose the president’s view of making sure the wealthiest Americans are asked to do a little more in terms of reducing the deficit,” Mr. Plouffe told reporters in a conference call Thursday. “The voters don’t view compromise as a dirty word.”
However, the president has yet to utter the word “mandate” or to lay claim to more political capital than he had before the election, when many analysts viewed his bargaining leverage as weakened by a lackluster economic recovery and predicted a much tighter election battle.
The president’s decision to lay low in the White House immediately after his electoral triumph was the opposite of Republican George W. Bush’s first full day in Washington following his re-election eight years ago. On Nov. 4, 2004, Mr. Bush held a Cabinet meeting and a full press conference in which he laid out the agenda for his second term.
“I’ve earned capital in this election — and I’m going to spend it for what I told the people I’d spend it on,” Mr. Bush said.
Many of Mr. Bush’s goals for his second term, however, didn’t pan out, and Mr. Obama and his top aides seem to be deliberately avoiding talk of a mandate even as they argue that voters backed the president’s economic plan of reducing the deficit by increasing taxes on high earners.
“You don’t say you have a mandate, you don’t threaten people,” said Chris LeHane, a longtime Democratic strategist who worked for former President Bill Clinton. “As soon as you say you have political capital, you start losing it. Reagan didn’t say he had political capital, and George W. Bush said he had political capital and he lost it.”
Mark Mellman, a longtime Democratic pollster and strategist, said Mr. Obama is smart to keep a low profile and reach out to congressional leaders rather than immediately using his bully pulpit to push his weight around.
“I’m always wary of calling anything a mandate,” he said.
At the same time, he said, “there’s no question from every poll that’s been done that people want to see taxes on people who are the wealthiest Americans go up to help prevent cuts on programs that really matter and help reduce the deficit.”
“I think it would be a mistake for the Republicans to stand in the way of that,” he added.