Obama staggering, but says he’s still standing

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Much like President Clinton once did, President Obama tried to make the case Tuesday that he’s still relevant.

Having lost major battles to Congress so far on gun control and budget sequesters only three months into his second term, Mr. Obama seemed frustrated when a reporter asked if he still has enough “juice” to enact his agenda.


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“Maybe I should just pack up and go home,” Mr. Obama retorted at the news conference in the White House briefing room. “Golly. As Mark Twain said, ‘Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.’”

It was reminiscent of Mr. Clinton’s comment at a news conference in April 1995, when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and a new House Republican majority were flexing their political muscle. “The president is relevant here,” Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Obama’s popularity has slipped a bit since winning re-election. Although he’s still far more popular than Congress, his job-approval rating in an average of polls has fallen from a high of 51.4 percent in late December to 48.3 percent.

And Congress has dealt him major setbacks, most notably the failure of legislation in the Senate that would have expanded background checks for people purchasing guns. After that vote last month, Mr. Obama lashed out angrily at the National Rifle Association and its allies, calling them liars.

As for the substance of the “juice” question at Tuesday’s news conference, Mr. Obama blamed Congress for the stalling of his agenda.

“You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities, and that my job is to somehow get them to behave,” he told a reporter. “That’s their job.”

The president reminded his audience that he’s dealing with a divided government.

“The Republicans control the House of Representatives,” Mr. Obama said. “In the Senate, this habit of requiring 60 votes for even the most modest piece of legislation has gummed up the works there. And I think it comes as no surprise, not even to the American people, but even members of Congress themselves, that right now things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill.”

Mr. Obama defended his second-term achievements thus far, saying “there are a range of things that we’re going to be able to get done.” He said he’s “confident” that bipartisan immigration-reform legislation in the Senate will become law.

“That’s going to be a historic achievement,” the president said, although later in the news conference he said he would need to “wait and see” what the House does with the bill, and he left open the possibility that he would veto an immigration bill that doesn’t meet his objectives.

The president’s first news conference since March 1 was filled with other reminders of the limits of his effectiveness. Asked about a hunger-strike by terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the president talked at length about his desire to close the facility — issuing an order to do so was the first substantive thing he did after being inaugurated — and his inability to do so.

Asked about reports that chemical weapons have been used in the civil war in Syria, Mr. Obama discussed why he wouldn’t use military force to protect civilians unless and until the international community verifies those reports.

Asked about the automatic budget cuts that caused airport delays last week until Congress approved a stopgap solution, Mr. Obama said he has been unable to persuade lawmakers of his preferred solution to raise more tax revenue and to revise the program cuts.

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