January 3rd, 2012
02:23 PM ET
The White House Tuesday denied reports that President Obama will be taking a go-it-alone approach, governing without Congress.
"He'll pursue all tracks," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, "but it is not accurate to suggest that he doesn't want to engage with Congress and that he won't engage with Congress. In fact, he wants to continue to work with Congress."
Carney's comments appeared to be aimed at putting in context statements from Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest, quoted in the New York Times and the Washington Post, that "in terms of the president's relationship with Congress in 2012 the president is no longer tied to Washington."
That sparked criticism from Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich who said in Independence, Iowa said Monday, "Having gone off to Hawaii for awhile he has now concluded, at least as I understand the news reports, they have decided they are going to govern with out Congress. Now, I don't know what country he thinks he is in but it is constitutionally impossible to govern without Congress."
Republican House Speaker John Boehner accused Mr. Obama of having an "Absentee Presidency," posting on Twitter that "POTUS' "shrunken" legislative agenda ignores need for Senate action on House-passed #jobs http://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23jobs bills."
Earnest, in his year-end briefing, did not close the door completely to working with Congress, noting "You will see the President focus a little bit more on some of the things that he can - now that he's sort of free from having to put out these fires, the president will have a larger playing field, as it were. And if that playing field includes working with Congress, all the better."
In his Tuesday briefing Jay Carney also took that tack, telling reporters, "this is not an either/or. It's a both/and situation. He will work with Congress. And we believe, actually, that there will be opportunities to work with Congress, beginning with expanding - extending the payroll tax cut for the full calendar year. "
But, in a delicate balancing act, Carney added, "We can't wait for Congress to act. And when Congress refuses to act, when Republicans choose the path of obstruction rather than cooperation, then the president's not going to sit here. Gridlock in Washington is not an excuse for inaction."
A senior administration official, speaking on background with reporters Tuesday, said he believes there will be pressure on Republicans to cooperate with the president and pointed to House Republicans who broke ranks on the issue of the payroll tax cut extension. The official predicted there will be more defections as members of Congress head into the elections. If they are willing to work with the President, the official said, then Mr. Obama and his administration would be eager to respond but the administration also will be looking for actions they can take on their own, including helping homeowners refinance and helping students with loans.
The official claimed it was the president who, in the fall, by intensively campaigning for the tax cut extension, changed the political dynamic and, as a result, brought some Republicans sensitive to public opinion on board. The official denied, however, that campaigning was tantamount to campaigning for re-election, adding that Mr. Obama still has a lot of governing to do and it will be a while before the president engages in his own re-election campaign.