Just two weeks before his second inauguration, President Barack Obama is acting as if he believes he has a big mandate for his next term. The latest sign: his decision to defy a concerted campaign against his choice for defense secretary.
The Democratic president, re-elected in November, unveiled a more combative approach during the end-of-year “fiscal cliff” taxes and spending drama, exploiting disarray in Republican ranks that underscored Washington’s legislative dysfunction.
Obama also showed a “get-tough” strategy in his determination to pursue gun control after last month’s massacre of schoolchildren by a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut.
The actions reflect the growing confidence of a president who, without the need ever to seek re-election, now feels freer to stand up to a new Congress. His first term was marked by complaints from his liberal base that he had been too conciliatory toward Republicans.
Some critics say Obama now runs the risk of overreaching when he should instead be building Republican bridges to resolve the next looming budget confrontation.
Obama’s latest assertive move came on Monday when he nominated Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, setting up a Senate confirmation battle with critics who have attacked the former Republican senator’s record on Israel and Iran.
Obama’s refusal to bow to Hagel’s opponents, including pro-Israel groups, neoconservatives figures and some of Hagel’s own Republican colleagues, signaled that the president would not allow a top Cabinet candidate to be derailed again.
Susan Rice, Obama’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, dropped out of consideration for secretary of state last month after taking heavy criticism from some Republican lawmakers over her account of the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed the American ambassador.