President Barack Obama took a “victory lap” in a television appearance late Wednesday afternoon, congratulating Congress on passing key elements of his agenda even as some Republicans complained that a last-minute legislative collapse had played into the president’s hands.
“A lot of folks in this town predicted that, after the midterm elections, Washington would be headed for more partisanship and more gridlock,” Obama said.
The president thanked both Democrats and Republicans for their contributions, adding: “If there’s any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it’s that we are not doomed to endless gridlock.
“We’ve shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress but to make progress together.”
Obama also urged both parties to “hold to a spirit of common purpose” in the New Year, a reference to the major legislative donnybrooks expected over how to trim the deficit.
The president’s remarks followed a Senate vote ratifying the New START accord with Russia on nuclear weapons. The treaty was ratified by a 71-to-26 margin, with 13 Republicans voting in support of the agreement. Obama said New START was his No. 1 foreign policy objective for the session.
The sudden willingness of GOP senators, some of whom are leaving office for good, to cross the aisle and work with the president has begun to draw global attention.
“The question on many lips in Washington these days is why the Republicans have suddenly become such wimps,” the U.K. Guardian’s Michael Tomasky wrote on Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina continues to be an outspoken critic of some of his Republican colleagues.
"I stand here very disappointed in the fact that our lead negotiator on the Republican side . . . basically is going to have his work product ignored and the treaty jammed through in the lame duck,” Graham said at a news conference Tuesday, speaking of Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl. “How as Republicans we justify that I do not know. To Senator Kyl, I want to apologize to you for the way you've been treated by your colleagues."
During an interview with Fox News radio, Graham charged that some of his fellow Republicans are guilty of “capitulation of dramatic proportions” in their willingness to work with Democrats. He also complained that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had “eaten our lunch” during the lame-duck session.
So why are Republican senators suddenly so interested in working with Democrats?
Graham suggested that some of the GOP senators are wary of what the much more conservative Congress will do when it takes office on Jan. 5.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., says the GOP split over New START replied that it shows “we’re about to deal with a more evenly divided Senate.”
When the lame-duck session began, Republicans declared that they were interested in passing a tax-cut deal and a continued resolution to fund the federal government — and nothing else. But some retreated from that position as individual Republican senators broke from the GOP leadership.
Of course, neither party has gotten everything it wanted from the lame-duck session. Republicans thwarted Democratic efforts to pass a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill laden with more than 6,600 earmarks, and stopped DREAM Act provisions that would have provided a route to citizenship for illegal residents who enroll in college or serve in the military.
But the administration scored impressive wins in other areas, including: congressional approval to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; a food safety bill strengthening federal power to inspect food processing plants; a deal to confirm about 20 of President Obama’s judicial nominations to the federal bench; and the New START deal, which was approved at midafternoon Wednesday.
Also, the FCC on Tuesday announced it would impose a modified version of Internet neutrality, opening up the Internet to federal regulation much to conservatives’ chagrin.
Pundits say this lame-duck session is already the most active in the post-WWII era.
“There’s just no question this one has passed the most legislation,” Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told Fox News. “Obviously, whether you consider it productive or counterproductive depends on your point of view on that legislation.”
Sabato points out that the incoming Congress will be quite different politically.
“You’ve got dozens and dozens of members of Congress, mainly Democrats, who of course are going out of office, most of them never to return to public office, so they have absolutely nothing to lose one way or the other during a lame-duck session,” he said.
The administration reportedly hopes to convene Obama's “victory lap” news conference after an expected Senate vote to ratify START. It will give the president an opportunity to highlight his legislative achievements and to thank Republicans and Democrats for working on a bipartisan basis. The president is also likely to mention his achievements in his upcoming State of the Union address. Gibbs confirmed that the president has begun working on his speech.
Observers say the lame-duck deals represent a remarkable comeback for a president whose party lost control of the House in a historic landslide just last month.
Shortly after the news conference, the president will leave Washington to join his family vacationing in Hawaii over the Christmas holiday.
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