White House aims to avoid year of reaction

Obama set for post-vacation economy push
Obama set for post-vacation economy push

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Obama set for post-vacation economy push 02:21

Story highlights

  • President Barack Obama arrives back in Washington with the Hill under Republican control
  • Obama will soon start a three-week preview period for his State of the Union address
  • The President will make stops in Detroit, Phoenix and Tennessee next week

Honolulu (CNN)His weeks-long stay in Hawaii largely uninterrupted by major news, President Barack Obama flies back to a redrawn Washington late Saturday prepared for a renewed economic push he hopes will set up a productive final presidential quarter.

He faces an uphill battle: Newly powerful Republicans take control of both chambers of Congress next week, and the nation's political attention will quickly turn to the next presidential contest as candidates declare their intentions in the next few months.
Expecting to receive GOP-passed measures gutting his health care law, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and undoing his executive actions, Obama has said he's ready to wield veto power that's largely been unused during his presidency.
    But his aides say Obama is hoping to avoid a year of reaction focused solely on rebutting the GOP. Instead, the White House says, he'll look to present an affirmative agenda that builds upon the nation's economic gains.
    On areas like tax reform and trade, Obama has said he's open to working with Republicans, who made major gains in November's elections and now control the Senate. But administration officials say they're not under any illusions that Republicans in the next Congress will be more willing to work with Obama than those in the last.
    That means the go-it-alone strategy of last year, which relied on unilateral action to exact change, hasn't been completely retired, officials say.
    In a bid to jump start the year's governing — and exploit momentum following the raft of late-2014 executive actions — Obama next week will start a three-week preview period for his late-January State of the Union address. Obama's chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, was kept busy drafting the annual speech while along with Obama for his Hawaii vacation.
    The President will make targeted stops in Detroit, Phoenix and Tennessee next week to promote, respectively, advances in the American auto industry, housing gains, and his education platform.
    The White House said during Obama's tour he would promote both executive actions and proposals for legislation.
    "The President is eager to get to work, and looks forward to working with the new Congress on policies that will make sure middle class Americans are sharing in the economic recovery," said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman.
    "There are a number of issues we could make progress on, but the President is clear that he will not let this Congress undo important protections gained - particularly in areas of health care, Wall Street reform and the environment," Schultz said.
    Obama has only vetoed two measures in his six years in office, though White House officials expect that to change quickly as Republicans assume power on Capitol Hill. One of the first measures lawmakers will debate is a bill approving the controversial Keystone pipeline, which environmentalists oppose.
    The White House has suggested it would reject any measure from Congress approving the pipeline, since the review process in place at the State Department is still underway.
    Areas of compromise exist: both Republicans and Obama say they're interested in overhauling the corporate tax structure and pushing through major trade deals with Europe and Asia.
    But those projects face opposition from Democrats, who worry they could favor large companies over working class Americans.
    "We certainly hope they work with Congress instead of continuing to campaign against it," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for the incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "But remember, the biggest hangup on things like trade has been the President's own party. They oppose entitlement reform, trade, revenue neutral tax reform."
    Stewart said that could mean Obama is forced to spend negotiating time with both Republicans and Democrats — "something he's been reluctant to do."