November 14th, 2010
04:50 PM ET
Washington (CNN) – After a shellacking at home, it was nine grueling days on the road in Asia, or as President Obama himself put it with a laugh, "Around the world - in less than 80 days."
But when Obama showed up unexpectedly in the press cabin of Air Force One Sunday afternoon after a long flight of about 14 hours home from Japan, I was one of the few reporters onboard and he looked rested and ready to face off with Republican leaders on tax cuts on other issues.
Obama also made news on some international hotspots by saying he finds a new Israeli settlement plan "promising" and he feels "reasonably" confident he can get the new START treaty with Russia ratified by the Senate in a lame duck session of Congress that starts this week.
But Obama again made clear that extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class will also be a top priority in the lame duck, repeating his mantra that tax cuts for the rich "usually won't boost the economy and we can't afford it."
Obama seemed to be issuing a bit of a challenge to the Republican leaders, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) by saying it is "my expectation" that they will work with him in the lame duck and "won't just want to obstruct."
He added there will be plenty of time in 2011 for "philosophical differences" to be fought out between the parties, but the lame duck should be focused on coming together.
Obama also hinted again at a mid-course correction, vowing he will adjust his approach to better connect with the American people.
"I spent the first years trying to get the policy right," Obama said. "In that obsessive focus on policy, I've neglected a few things that matter a lot to me."
Obama said that in focusing so much in the first two years on the "short-term crisis" he did not spend enough time on "maintaining a bipartisan tone" and cleaning up Washington by targeting earmarks, which are "wasteful at a time when everyone else is tightening their belts."
As he did at a news conference a day after the midterm election that saw his party get wiped out in the House and just cling on to contol of the Senate, he spoke again about the benefit of "getting outside Washington and shaping public opinion" more.
Obama vowed that "moving forward" he is going to "redouble" his efforts to get back to some of those basic principles.
On Saturday on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Japan, Obama had a bilateral meeting with Russian President Medvedev in which he reiterated his pledge to get the Senate to ratify the new START missile reduction treaty in coming weeks.
The treaty has an uphill battle right now because the White House has had a hard time convincing pivotal GOP Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) to sign on. The administration is racing to get the treaty finished in the lame duck before their Senate majority officially shrinks in January when the new Congress convenes, which will make prospects even dimmer.
Obama said the administration has had a "series of conversations" with Kyl and is thankful that influential GOP Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham both "say they want to see this done."
The president stressed "how important Russian cooperation has been" in moving U.S. troops and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, and top administration officials warned this weekend that cooperation could be in jeopardy if the treaty fails, raising the stakes even further.
Obama, meanwhile, seemed to be going out of his way to praise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after facing sustained criticism that he has not worked hard enough at sustaining the alliance with Israel.
He proclaimed a new Israeli plan for settlements "promising," and said his administration has privately told the Israeli and Palestinian sides to "start negotiating as soon as possible."
"I commend Prime Minister Netanyahu for taking I think a very productive step," Obama said, adding it "shows Prime Minister Netanyahu is serious" about forging peace.