CHICAGO, USA (AFP) — US President Barack Obama returned to Washington yesterday, emboldened by his re-election but facing the daunting task of breaking down partisan gridlock in a bitterly divided Congress.
Before leaving Chicago in the afterglow of his euphoric win, Obama was already on the phone trying to bridge the divide with Republican leaders as America stares at a looming financial crisis that could spark recession.
In his victory speech, Obama told Americans “the best is yet to come” after defying dark economic omens to handily defeat Mitt Romney, but his in-tray is overflowing with unfulfilled first term wishes thwarted by blanket Republican opposition.
Whether on immigration reform, health care or a grand plan to rein in the ballooning budget deficit, the president struggled for four years to find compromise in Congress and some questioned if he had the political chops.
The big question at the start of Obama’s second term is this: will the Republicans blink on the looming “fiscal cliff” and strike a deal that will avert a catastrophic economic crunch forced by mandatory budget cuts?
“In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward,” the president told the country in his rousing acceptance speech.
But Obama knows it is not his vanquished foe that he must now deal with but rather the Republican leadership in Congress, which may dig its heels in after failing in its stated goal: to make him a oneterm president.
Diehard Republicans were already challenging his mandate, pointing to his slim lead in the national popular vote where he led Romney by 50 per cent to 49 per cent.
“I think the real story here is that Obama won, but he’s got no mandate,” leading conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer declared on Fox News.
“The Republicans are in control of the House, probably a little bit stronger. They are not going to budge. There’s no way after holding out on Obama for two years they’re going to cave in, and Obama doesn’t have anywhere really to go.”
Obama’s first move the day after reelection was to call congressional leaders, sending out an overt message that his immediate priority was to try to break the domestic political deadlock.
The president spoke to Republican House Speaker John Boehner and also telephoned the minority Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, as well as top Democrats.
Remarkably, Obama’s coalition of Hispanic, black, and young voters turned out in similar numbers to those of his heady change-fuelled campaign in 2008, shocking Romney’s team and presenting a new American face to the world.