With a big to-do list at the start of his second term, President Barack Obama is trying to sell Democrats on his strategy for tackling immigration, gun control and a host of fiscal dilemmas.
Obama met behind closed doors for more than two hours Wednesday with lawmakers from his own party at the Senate Democrats' annual retreat at a hotel in Annapolis, Md. House Democrats will hear from Obama at their annual retreat Thursday in Lansdowne, Va.
Senate Democratic unity will be critical to Obama's prospects for enacting the ambitious agenda he's laid out for the start of his second term. Almost all the items he's seeking face opposition from Senate Republicans — not to mention the even stronger opposition Obama is likely to run up against if and when the GOP-controlled House takes up those items.
The White House said Obama spoke briefly, took questions from 10 of the senators assembled, then spent an hour chatting with them in smaller groups. Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney said the session was focused on coordinating what Democratic senators are doing with the administration's own efforts to promote Obama's priorities.
High on the agenda was immigration, where Carney said Obama would note the "significant progress" made toward a bipartisan deal. Obama is letting the Senate take the lead on crafting comprehensive immigration legislation, including a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants. But he is using all the power that the presidency affords to implore lawmakers to act without delay.
A bipartisan Senate group has reached agreement on the broad outlines of such an overhaul, but a few thorny issues remain, including a possible guest-worker program and whether to delay steps toward citizenship until certain border-security measures are in place.
Gun control is another of Obama's priorities where the outcome may rest on whether Senate Democrats stick together in supporting him. Obama says he sees an emerging consensus behind his proposals in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., schoolhouse massacre, but some provisions he's pushing will make it tough for red-state Democrats and those up for re-election in 2014 to back him. Even the top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid, has declined to say whether he'll back the most contentious aspect of Obama's package: a ban on assault weapons.
Vice President Joe Biden addressed those concerns head-on when he spoke to House Democrats at their retreat Wednesday evening. Biden said public opinion has shifted on gun control, insisting that Democratic lawmakers can comfortably back the measures he and Obama are pushing without fear they will lose their jobs.
"I'm not asking you to vote for something you don't believe, but I don't want to hear about, "Well, we can't take it on because it's too politically dangerous,'" Biden said.
The Senate retreat also offered Obama his first chance to pitch directly to senators his proposal for a quick fix to avert the sweeping spending cuts set to hit the military, domestic programs and the economy at large on March 1. Obama appealed to Congress on Tuesday to pass a short-term set of spending cuts and tax changes to give lawmakers more time to hash out a broader deal.
Lederman reported from Washington.