This week showcases an unusual role reversal: someplace else, for at least a moment, will look angrier and more dysfunctional than political Washington. Scarcely a minute passes on the 2008 campaign trail without ritual denunciations of paralysis in the capital because of infighting between Democrats and President Bush’s Republicans.
But now the bitter contests pitting Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in Democratic presidential primaries, and John McCain and Mitt Romney, in Republican contests, suddenly make Pennsylvania Avenue appear an oasis of cooperation.
That’s in large part due to the extraordinarily swift agreement between the White House and Congress over a $150-billion stimulus package designed to forestall an economic recession. The package hasn’t passed either chamber, and some senators in both parties are grumbling.
Yet when President Bush enters the House chamber tonight to deliver his final State of the Union Address, his accord with Speaker Nancy Pelosi will soften the atmosphere in ways that might even have consequences that lasts longer than just one night.
His State of the Union address--described by a senior administration official as less “antagonistic” than some past messages--will reflect diminished domestic ambitions. But aides hope that good feeling from cooperation on the economy might prove a modest prod to accords on some outstanding trade deals, re-authorization of the No Child Left Behind education law, and terrorism surveillance.
But Mr. Bush’s political relevance extends beyond the fate of legislation. Republican strategists fear Mr. Bush will prove a major drag in the fall, on the Republican nominee and Congressional candidates alike, unless he can do something to boost his meager low-30s approval ratings. Action to stave off recession, if Americans believe it’s working, could be that something.
“Anything they can do to get his numbers up is helpful to them,” says pollster Mark Mellman, who advises Democratic Congressional leaders.