New US Congress: ‘Against Obama, Republicans Are Divided’

The 144th American Congress begins work this Tuesday. U.S. specialist Nicole Bacharan clarifies the power relationship between President Obama and the new Congress, of whom the Republican opposition is the majority.

What leeway does Obama have, faced with a Congress in the hands of Republicans?

His leeway has been considerably reduced; Congress has the means to put all the plans Obama could have in check. Like those of his predecessors placed in this situation, the president seems to want to win over public opinion in order to eventually bring about concessions from the Republicans. There are, however, domains where the White House and Congress are going to have to agree. They must confirm the nomination of a new secretary of defense as well as a new attorney general. In the spring, they will have to raise the debt ceiling again. It will be necessary to come to an agreement on various subjects. But Obama has few means to influence Congress today.

Recently, we have seen the White House take a strong initiative in re-establishing diplomatic links with Cuba. Doesn’t the loss of Congress during the November polls bring back the “lame duck” Obama in the foreign policy domain?

It does seem this way. After the mid-mandate elections, he seemed a little beaten down, even discouraged. But it’s the contrary! He seems to want to bring a conclusion to several issues that are important to him. He seems liberated. At the same time, having a Congress against him limits what he can do; all his initiatives are going to be the subject of battles before Congress.

The Republicans seem divided and disconcerted by the presidential initiatives. How can we explain this?

The Republicans have apparently judged too quickly that Obama was out of breath. Now they have pocketed the much hoped-for victory but find themselves against one another in a divided party. On the one hand, the elected radicals don’t want compromise; on the other, the party executives want to prove that they are capable of governing and producing results, and not only from a position of opposition. In a way, the stress is on their side.

In your opinion, where will Obama’s next foreign policy initiatives take place?

Trying to enter into an agreement with Iran on its nuclear facilities seems to be a priority. It is an issue where he has the upper hand because it is the executive that acts first. With Russia, he has scored some points. The sanctions are having an effect and we are awaiting Vladimir Putin’s reaction. With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which always preoccupies American presidents at the end of a term, things do not seem to have begun moving in the direction of an agreement. Finally, Barack Obama is very involved in negotiations of commercial agreements. He is mainly concerned with the Asia-Pacific [region], but just as much with the agreement with Europe. He is especially committed to these agreements.

Cuba, immigration, ecology … Obama is on all these fronts. Isn’t it too late, two years before the end of his presidency?

It is a little late, actually. Half of the responsibility for this is his. The other half lies with the Republican Party, which has been a wall of opposition. There is a refusal to compromise on the opposition’s part. Yet institutions demand these compromises! The executive and legislative powers have to agree. For immigration, an issue that Barack Obama has carried and presented as a priority since 2009, this is very late.

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