Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Crunch time for Obama and Washington

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
April 9, 2013 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: President Barack Obama's legacy could be shaped in a couple of weeks
  • Obama has been reaching out to GOP, seeking progress on budget, guns, immigration
  • She says Obama has been taking risks in the interest of seeking compromise
  • Borger: President's strategy is smart, but is Congress up to the challenge?

Washington (CNN) -- It's not often that a presidential to-do list (and legacy-making agenda) comes down to a couple of key weeks, but here we are: gun control, immigration reform and the budget -- all front and center, right now.

It's an odd time in Washington. The president has been dating Republicans, dining with senators with whom he has hardly spoken in the past. Republicans seem to believe they can actually work with the president -- on immigration, at least.

As for guns, well, some in the GOP seem ready to filibuster an issue -- background checks -- that has overwhelming public support. "That won't do us a lot of good," moans one GOP pollster. "We will look like the party taking extremist positions."

Should anyone be able to buy guns? Share your views

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

Remember how well that worked with women in the last election?

And then there's the budget. The president decided to propose one this year that starts with compromise -- containing some of the entitlement reforms that he worked out with House Speaker John Boehner before the "grand bargain" became the grand failure. A couple of senior GOP pollsters tell me that they can't quite figure out why the president did something guaranteed to annoy his liberal base.

How about this for an answer: When all else fails, it doesn't hurt to look credible. Better yet, it doesn't hurt actually to be credible.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



After all, what's the downside? "When you are dealing with dysfunction, the best you can do is demonstrate that you are reasonable," one senior administration official tells me. "The alternative would be throwing fuel on the flames. We need to be serious here."

It's about time. On all fronts.

Understand this: This is a not a strategy hatched by a bunch of Pollyannas at the White House. It is borne of necessity, and bred with an understanding of a public that has just about had it with Washington. The president played tough in the sequester fight -- calling for new revenues -- and he lost. Now he's not overplaying his hand; he's playing it smart.

Lawmaker: Background checks 'common ground'
Obama: As a society, we must change
Obama launches new gun control push

On immigration, he's hanging back, letting congressional negotiators take the lead. He was called out for doing that on health care reform -- rightly so, allowing top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to manage an unpopular process and produce an unpopular bill. But this time, it's different: Republicans understand that immigration reform has now become a gateway issue. 'It's now a basic way for us to find our way back into national politics," one GOP pollster tells me. "It doesn't solve our problem with Latino voters by itself, but it helps."

Even polls show that a majority of GOP voters -- once opposed to reform -- are now on board with some version of it. The notion of a "pathway to citizenship" still stirs all kinds of fears about amnesty with the GOP base, but that's less of an issue these days: All things considered, any gain in Latino voters outweighs some shrinkage of the base.

It's a trickier route for the president on guns. Barack Obama didn't intend for gun control to be part of his second-term legacy; it came to be after Newtown. And this is an issue, by the way, that splits the Democratic Party more than it splits the GOP. A half-dozen Democratic Senate races in pro-gun states next year could hang in the balance. And if the Democrats lose those senators -- and can't break a GOP filibuster -- it's dangerous for them, too.

Not as dangerous, of course, as the GOP holding up any vote on a gun bill. That, I would argue, could have a great deal of impact on the midterm elections. Why? Because the president will continue to take the issue directly to the voters, 90% of whom agree with him on background checks.

It's a delicate time here in Washington. If nothing happens on guns, for instance, what about the rest of the Obama agenda? "If you can't pass a bill on guns in this environment, what can you ever do?" asks one senior administration official. "It sets the bar so high for anything, people will be demoralized."

The result? Retreat. Maybe some sort of immigration reform passes (it's in everyone's self-interest) but no tax reform. No serious entitlement reform. Nothing big on the agenda, just small-scale items.

Perfect for politicians unable to respond to crisis, much less the will of the people.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT