Obama's lame-duck lesson: 'We are not doomed to gridlock'

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 22, 2010 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama basked in a series of legislative victories on Wednesday, saying the lame-duck session of Congress drawing to a close was “the most productive post-election period we've had in decades” and capped “the most productive two years that we've had in generations.”

Hours after he signed into law a historic repeal of the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service, Obama also hinted that he may one day decide he can support gay marriages as well _ but not just yet.

“If there's any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it's that we are not doomed to endless gridlock,” Obama said in the year-end news conference in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, his 11th news conference from the White House.

“We've shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together,” he said.

Even as he took a little victory lap before flying off to Hawaii for a delayed family Christmas vacation, Obama expressed deep disappointment he couldn’t get enough congressional support for giving illegal immigrants’ children a path to citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military.

He also acknowledged that Democrats and Republicans will likely lock horns in the next Congress over budget and spending issues.

Getting his agenda through may be much harder once Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and hold a stronger minority in the Senate.

Still, Obama insisted that voters expect the two parties “to find common ground on challenges facing our country. That’s a message that I will take to heart in the New Year, and I hope my Democratic and Republican friends will do the same. “

Obama's assessment came on a day of major accomplishments that began with his signing the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and was followed by the Senate's ratification of the administration's nuclear arms treaty with Russia and its approval of $4.2 billion to pay for health care for firefighters, police and other first responders who contracted ailments after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on New York's World Trade Center.

"One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck, I am persistent," Obama said. "If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it."

But the president also lamented what he didn't accomplish.

"Maybe my biggest disappointment was the DREAM Act vote," Obama said of the immigration measure. “I get letters from kids all across the country — came here when they were five — came here when they were eight. Their parents were undocumented. The kids didn’t know. . . And suddenly they come to 18, 19 years old and they realize . . . ‘I’m at risk of deportation.' And it is heartbreaking. That can’t be who we are.”

Obama expressed pride in ending the 17-year-old Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" law that kept gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

As a candidate, Obama said he considered marriage to be only between a man and woman but in recent interviews with gay media he’s been saying that he’s struggling with the issue and hinting that his stance might change. He reiterated that in the news conference, saying that “my feelings about this are constantly evolving” as he sees how important the issue is to gays who are friends or on his staff.

But he indicated he’s not changing his stance just yet: "At this point, what I've said is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides protections and the legal rights that married couples have," he said.

Overall, Obama didn't engage in the chest-thumping that many congressional Republican critics predicted he would. Instead, he struck a bipartisan pose, repeating his line that he and Democrats suffered a "shellacking" in last month's elections.

"I think what's happened over the last several weeks is it's not a victory for me, it's a victory for the American people," Obama said. "And I hope the lesson that I hope everybody takes from this is that it's possible for Democrats and Republicans to have principled disagreements, to have some lengthy arguments, but to ultimately find common ground to move the country forward."

He added, however, that he's not "naïve" and fully expects fights with Republicans in Congress on the federal budget, spending priorities, taxes, and issues like immigration.

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