President Obama vowed Tuesday to take more unilateral executive action to bypass Congress, and there’s fresh evidence that Democratic lawmakers in this election year would just as soon avoid the president, too.
“I’ve got a pen, and … I’ve got a phone,” Mr. Obama said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year at the White House. “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward” to help middle-class families.
With Mr. Obama’s economic agenda stalled in the House, the president will demonstrate his executive authority Wednesday during a trip to North Carolina State University. Mr. Obama will promote “a new public-private effort to boost advanced manufacturing,” according to senior presidential adviser Dan Pfeiffer.
But the trip is already proving to be a mild embarrassment to the White House due to the expected absence of Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who is facing a tough re-election campaign this year and whose poll numbers suggest she has been hurt by her support of Mr. Obama’s troubled new health care law. Mrs. Hagan’s office said she will stay in Washington because the Senate is in session, an excuse that a CNN reporter at the White House daily press briefing likened to “the congressional equivalent of ‘I can’t go, I’m washing my hair.’”
White House press secretary Jay Carney bristled at the analogy and said Mrs. Hagan is “working on important business” at the Capitol. He said the trip focused on the economy is not “an issue of electoral politics.”
But with Mr. Obama far less popular than a year ago, and the flaws of Obamacare still a potential campaign issue, the president’s team is well aware there may be more incumbent Democrats like Mrs. Hagan who are reluctant to stand on the same stage with him. Mrs. Hagan did appear with the president in October 2011 when he stopped in Asheville, N.C., and she made it back to Washington for votes later in the day.
“With her political career on the line, Kay Hagan is suddenly too embarrassed to be seen with President Obama in North Carolina,” said North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope. “North Carolinians know that despite Kay Hagan’s efforts to hide from President Obama, she voted with his liberal agenda 96 percent of the time, enthusiastically endorsed him for re-election, and has been one of the strongest supporters of the Obamacare disaster.”
The president will meet with Senate Democrats privately Wednesday night to discuss political strategy ahead of his State of the Union address on Jan. 28. Mrs. Hagan is expected to attend that session behind closed doors.
As he convened his first Cabinet meeting of the new year, Mr. Obama told reporters that struggling families cannot wait while Congress dithers with competing jobs bills.
“We are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help that they need,” he said.
But House Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters Tuesday that it is Congress that is waiting — waiting for the president to cooperate on several bills that would create more jobs, after a dismal report on last month’s weak job growth nationally. He said Mr. Obama should use his phone to call Congress.
“The fact is, the president’s taken his eye off the ball — taken his eye off of the issue of jobs,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “If the president’s serious about wanting to improve the prospects for our economy — and higher wages and better jobs — all he has to do is pick up the phone and call Democrat leaders in the Senate and ask them to move one of these dozens of bills that we’ve sent over there that would help put Americans back to work.”