One inescapable conclusion from President Obama’s confrontational State of the Union address this week is that he expects to reach few legislative agreements with the Republican Congress. There’s probably a better chance of Republicans designating an “Affordable Care Act Appreciation Month” than of passing legislation to raise capital-gains taxes or to provide tuition-free community college, as the president proposed.
This suggests that while Obama is hoping to frame a broader debate with his new proposals, he anticipates that he will make his greatest “fourth quarter” impact through executive actions that bypass Congress. He’s already signaled that intention in recent months by moving aggressively to advance regulations aimed at combating global climate change; normalizing relations with Cuba; and providing legal protection to millions of undocumented immigrants. This week’s speech indicated that more unilateral action could be coming, including moving toward closing the Guantánamo Bay prison.
Given the fierce opposition among congressional Republicans to all of these ideas, the party’s next presidential nominee will likely face enormous pressure to promise to overturn them. That, in turn, points to a top remaining priority for Obama: entrenching these initiatives to the point where even a Republican successor might hesitate to uproot them.