State of the Union: The presidency — feeling feisty

Posted at 10:52 AM, Jan 27, 2014

By Jim Acosta

CNN Senior White House Correspondent

(CNN) — President Barack Obama’s top advisers called a group of reporters after the start of the New Year into a small basement conference room and let it be known a new day had arrived at the White House.

Stung by a year of setbacks in 2013, senior administration officials described the President refreshed from his Hawaiian vacation and ready to embark on what they called a “year of action” — shorthand for pushing policy initiatives with or without the help of Congress.

For weeks, aides to the President have hinted at a State of the Union address tilted more toward executive action than legislation.

White House officials already have said Obama will call for executive branch solutions for job training and retirement security, and more are coming.

“We’re putting an extra emphasis on it in 2014,” senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer told CNN in reference to the President’s ability to shape policy on his own.

A feistier Obama White House can be summed up in his now familiar refrain that he has “a pen and a phone,” referring to what the administration sees as a clear constitutional authority to take a variety of actions without congressional approval.

Democratic strategists note some of the renewed emphasis on a more presidential view of governing followed the arrival of Obama’s new counselor, John Podesta, a former chief of staff in the Clinton administration.

“It was a big Clinton tool in the second term,” White House veteran and CNN Political Analyst Stephanie Cutter said. “Everyone talks about all that got done under Clinton. Well, most of it was executive action.”

Just days into 2014, Obama ordered his administration to tighten the federal background check system to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns.

The move came nearly a year after Obama made an impassioned plea for new gun control laws in his 2013 State of the Union address.

“They deserve a vote,” Obama said of victims of the Newtown school massacre and other mass shootings.

But that vote eventually failed in the Senate.

Obama still needs Congress for major legislative priorities such as immigration reform and an increase in the minimum wage, and Republicans decry any White House effort to govern by executive action.

“He also has a Constitution,” House Speaker John Boehner said of the President’s “pen and phone” rhetoric.

But after a government shutdown last October, repeated GOP attempts to repeal Obamacare, and a legislative agenda largely stalled in Congress, the White House is sounding less parliamentary in tone.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said it would be too “narrow” for the President to deliver a State of the Union address aimed solely at Congress.

“They’re physically in the room,” Carney quipped about the legislators who will be in attendance Tuesday night, adding that “millions of Americans are tuning in and the President is speaking to” them too.

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