The White House gloated Thursday that President Obama triumphed over Republican majorities on virtually all of his priorities in 2015, from a climate change pact to the Iran nuclear deal — most of which were accomplished by sidestepping Congress.
At his final press briefing of the year, White House press secretary Josh Earnest launched into a long list of goals achieved this year by Mr. Obama, starting with the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba. He noted that Republicans failed to stop the move, and said it was “an indication of how much of the year has gone.”
“There were Republicans who walked into this session of Congress emboldened by their strong new majority in the Senate and their historically large majority in the House,” Mr. Earnest said. “But their opposition to many administration priorities melted away in the face of the administration’s determined and forceful effort to advance our agenda.”
The president’s spokesman called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, for failing to scuttle Mr. Obama’s cherished climate change agreement, which was reached with other world leaders in Paris last weekend.
“Despite Senator McConnell’s prodigious letter-writing efforts, that agreement was reached, and it was historic,” Mr. Earnest said.
He went on.
Defending Obamacare from repeal by Congress? Check.
Stopping Republicans from undermining climate change initiatives in the federal budget? Check.
Reaching a nuclear deal with Iran? Check.
He included in this list the administration’s halting of the Keystone pipeline, although Mr. Obama never officially took a position on the project until the State Department rejected it this fall.
“Republicans were talking a real tough game about building the Keystone pipeline,” Mr. Earnest said. “The president announced earlier this year, the State Department announced earlier this year, that wasn’t going to happen. And it’s not going to happen.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Thursday that the budget deal reached this week shows the GOP to be “an effective opposition party.”
“This spending bill reins in the IRS,” Mr. Ryan told reporters. “It stops the EPA overreach.”
He said it also blocks several Obamacare provisions and prevents the taxpayer bailout of the “risk corridor” program for health insurance companies that lose money under the Affordable Care Act.
“When we return in January, the House will put an Obamacare repeal bill on the floor and pass it, and put it on the president’s desk,” Mr. Ryan told reporters. “This bill will also defund Planned Parenthood.”
Nearly all of the priorities cited by the White House were accomplished through executive action, or involved treaty-like agreements that Mr. Obama purposely crafted to avoid the need for congressional approval.
And Mr. Earnest didn’t mention the third branch of government, the federal courts, which have dealt a major setback to the president’s immigration plan that would grant amnesty to more than 5 million illegal immigrants.
Nor did he discuss the alarming rise of the Islamic State in 2015, the failure of economic sanctions on Russia to resolve the crisis in eastern Ukraine or the administration’s inability to have any appreciable impact on the civil war in Syria, which has led to a massive refugee migration in Europe.
Mr. Obama’s repeated call for raising the federal minimum wage has gone nowhere this year, leading the administration to work with states and employers to raise their own wage rates.
When a reporter asked why Mr. Obama’s job-approval rating is at 43 percent if he’s so victorious, Mr. Earnest said the public’s concern about the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, is likely having an effect.
What’s more, the spokesman for a White House that is one of the most savvy in history at media manipulation even claimed that the president doesn’t worry about polls or news cycles.
“The unifying theme of these accomplishments is that so many of these victories that were enjoyed both by the administration and by the country were not just the productive and effective management of the news cycle,” Mr. Earnest said. “Instead, these were accomplishments that were years in the making. And years from now, our country will continue to be strengthened by these breakthroughs.”
One of the few legislative initiatives that Mr. Obama won in Congress this year was the measure that granted him trade promotion authority, which helped him to conclude the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement in October with 11 other nations.
Mr. Earnest said the deal “will have significant economic and geopolitical consequences for our national security for generations to come.”
“And we anticipate working closely with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill next year to secure congressional approval of that agreement,” he said.
But Mr. McConnell said last week that the Senate will likely postpone consideration of TPP until after the presidential election in November, or until after Mr. Obama leaves office in January 2017. Democratic lawmakers are uniformly opposed to the pact.
Republicans are firmly in control of the House and Senate, and few legislative initiatives typically get done in a presidential election year.
The president will depart Washington on Friday for his annual two-week vacation in Hawaii, stopping in California on the way to meet with families of the victims of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.