President Barack Obama's intense juggling of domestic issues reflects all the realities he faces: a vast agenda, a smaller window for results this year and a need to keep promises to constituencies that will have a huge say in the fall congressional elections.And now he's headed off to Indonesia and Australia next week. Though no one seems really sure why he's going there now.
Obama is in the heart of a period in which he has pledged to do everything in his power to make the case for health reform, a time-consuming blitz that he hopes will end in a final vote in Congress this month. That's on top of his commitment to make jobs his top priority.
Yet his agenda this week alone signals that Obama is moving — or at least trying to move — Congress on other matters affecting most every American. The coming months likely amount to his best shot to pass the heavy legislation that defines his domestic agenda and that will help drive the midterm elections in November.
At the moment, health care is the chief campaign. Obama pitched his plan in both Pennsylvania and Missouri this week and will again in Ohio on Monday.
The rest of the week, though, provides a revealing snapshot of Obama's balancing act.
A trade speech took precedence Thursday morning. Then he devoted coveted time to lawmakers and activists involved in immigration reform, a far-reaching and sensitive issue that rose and crashed in the second term of President George W. Bush. Friday he meets with his national security team to assess the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, then assembles his science and technology advisers.
Earlier this week, Obama had 14 senators of both parties to the White House to try to build support for stalled climate and energy legislation. Throw in that twice in recent days Obama promoted his education agenda of boosting standards and graduation rates, with federal money as leverage.
The president is also invested in pushing through an overhaul of the rules governing Wall Street. A bipartisan effort on that front appeared to break down Thursday, but the White House hopes that will change as the legislation advances, still optimistic that financial reform will get done this year.
With President Obama’s health care bill hanging in the balance, the White House is facing intensifying questions about whether Mr. Obama should take his planned trip to Indonesia and Australia next week.Having good relations with Indonesia and Australia is important, but it is indicative of Obama's desire to address everything at once. He had his opportunity the first year to focus exclusively on people's main concern - the economy. Instead he outsourced stimulus planning to the Democratic leaders on the Hill.
The visit, which has been timed to coincide with spring break for the Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, is something of a homecoming for Mr. Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. The trip is unusual, experts say, in that there is no economic summit or other multinational gathering for the president to attend.
Instead, Mr. Obama plans to meet with the leaders of the two countries, and also intends to show his family a bit of his past. The White House says the trip will send a powerful message to Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and to Australia, a major trading partner.
But Mr. Obama is also pressing Congress to wrap up work on his health care overhaul by Easter, and on Capitol Hill, some lawmakers, mostly Republicans, are already beginning to question whether he should be out of the country at such a critical time.
And now when he's trying to get the Democrats to commit political suicide in passing the unpopular health care plan, he's decided to add in another controversial issue that will divide the country - immigration reform.
Obama said he told the senators and the advocacy groups that "my commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering, and that I will continue to be their partner in this important effort."Hmmm. Is it just a coincidence that Obama is making noises on this issue just in time for the midterm elections? Just wondering.
The immigration issue is an important one for Obama, who has promised to work to solve the problem. Hispanics voted heavily for Obama in the 2008 presidential election, making the difference in key states like Florida, and their votes will be critical in the November midterm elections when Obama and his fellow Democrats will be fighting to maintain control of the House and Senate.
Latino voters who don't think progress is being made on the issue may not go to the polls.
Lindsay Graham is trying to work with the Democrats to get this done. They couldn't get it done when Bush and McCain were both pushing for it. And now Graham has warned the President that he won't be able to get any Republican support if they push health care reform through reconciliation.
"Using reconciliation to push health care through will make it much harder for Congress to come together on a topic as important as immigration," Graham said.Of course, they'll ignore him. But how many moderate Democrats in the House who are debating on whether to take the risk of voting for the Senate health care bill are going to be willing to move from that to immigration reform?
Obviously, all presidents have to deal with a multitude of issues, but the best ones select just a couple to devote their precious bully pulpit time to rally public support and shepherd through Congress. But Obama has so many ways that he wants to remake the country that he just can't focus on such a limited agenda.