Miniter 12 Richard Miniter is an investigative journalist and author of three New York Times best-selling books. “Leading from Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him,” Google Books
After the historic defeat, Axelrod went on to teach a course called Campaign Strategy at Northwestern University in the Chicago suburbs. The day after the election, many White House staffers described their mood as "depressed." The loss of the U.S. House of Representatives and only a skinny remaining majority in the U.S. Senate meant that passing new programs would be very difficult. Would the next two years be an endless and enervating siege? Obama seemed strangely upbeat, '[he day after the midterm elections, the president convened a meeting with his senior Staff, While they saw clouds, he saw the sun through them. Democrats still ran both houses of Congress until January 3.2011. when the new session convened. To the surprise of some starters present, he enumerated an ambitious list of measures that he would like to see made law in the next sixty days; "a tax deal, extending unemployment benefits, ratification of New START treaty reducing nuclear arms, repeal of the Pentagon's Don't Ask/ Don't Tell policy preventing gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military, passage of the DREAM Act (which would grant citizenship to undocumented young adults who met certain requirements), and a children's nutrition bill advocated by Michelle Obama."" The list was unrealistic. It would have been a demanding agenda for Congress to accomplish over two years. let alone two months. Besides, using a "lame duck" Congress to pass major legislation had enormous political risks. It would be seen as an end-run around voters who had just elected a new majority with a new agenda. When President Carter had used a "lame duck' Congress to pass major bills (including the costly "Superfund" program) following the November 1980 elections in which he lost his reelection bid and Republicans won control of the Senate for the first time since I95-*. the public was outraged. The outrage would be much bigger this time: Since 1980. the Internet, talk radio, and the Fox News Channel had emerged as powerful forums for channeling outrage. liven if Congress could actually adopt these controversial measures in a few short months, the political price of such a strategy would he high. Still, Obama continued to back Axelrod's analysis, which held that "independent voters wanted a leader who would make all the squabbling schoolchildren in Washington do their assignments."12 Who would do the "assigning"? The voters or the White House? Neither Obama nor Axel-rod seemed to wonder. If the federal government would finally pass a liberal wish list. Axelrod and Obama contended, voters would be happy. It was an unusual view. Independent voters in swing districts had actually voted down candidates who had supported the president's policies in the 2010 elections. Even in safely Democratic districts, independent voters had reduced their support of liberal lawmakers compared with 2008, exit polls showed. Few staffers were persuaded ch.it the president was right, although none dared to contradict him during that meeting. Passing Obama’s priorities during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasonhad yet another obstacle. A massive White House staff reorganization was in progress. Rahm Emmanuel had stepped down as chief of staff in October 2010 and many other staffers were returning to Chicago or to academia. Without staff, it would be harder to rally the already reluctant Congress to act. Still, Obama was keen to proceed as planned. He was finally going to lead, but the timing and strategy were ill-considered. "Obama didn't care about the criticism that he was too insular," a White House aide said. "He didn't give a shit.* Obama's proposals were dutifully sent to Capitol 1 lill. but most were essentially dead on arrival.Congress was exhausted and didn't want to take any more political risks.