President Obama 2.0: Becoming ‘CEO of America’

John F. Harris and James Hohmann

Six weeks of lame-duck legislating should be more than enough to convince President Barack Obama that two more years of this would be a drag.

Obama has scored more legislative victories than first seemed likely following the Democrats’ drubbing in the midterm elections. But the session winding down this week also highlighted, in painful ways, the narrow lanes in which Obama is operating — cutting deals on terms that were largely set by other Washington players.

He’s confined on the right by the incoming Republican House majority and the reality of deep budget deficits. He’s confined on the left by his own sullen Democrats, including many liberals who will be quick to protest if they feel Obama is selling them out or cynically lurching to the center.

Obama’s cramped circumstances, according to numerous veterans of previous White Houses and other experts, highlight his urgent need to reinvent his presidency — discarding the Congress-focused strategy of the first two years and coming up with new and more creative ways to exercise power and set the national agenda. (See: Obama makes the sale)

“He needs to be CEO of America,” said former White House chief of staff John Podesta, an Obama sympathizer who ran his transition to power after the 2008 election and is now urging him to dramatically refashion his presidency.

The West Wing makeover, as Podesta and others see it, would involve Obama no longer “being Velcroed to the Hill” and giving more attention to powers of the presidency that don’t involve signing bills into law.

Among those powers: executive orders that advance Obama’s agenda without involving Congress, new policy ideas that transcend Washington’s usual left and right divisions and speeches that summon people to meet the long-term challenges facing the country, even, or especially, when the remedies involve more than actions by the federal government…
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