COMMENTARY: Obama to GOP: Get on Board or Get Out of the Way

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  • President Barack Obama may not be interested in playing golf with Republicans. But he doesn’t mind playing hardball.

    Sitting inside the White House several hours before Obama delivered his State of the Union Address to the nation, I listened to a White House senior adviser discuss the president’s vision for moving America forward — with or without the support of Congress.

    It was uplifting to hear White House officials characterize the president as a more defiant leader who will push back against a callous Republican-controlled House. Obama, they said, intends to advance his agenda to bridge the wealth divide even if he is forced to sign executive orders to get critical legislation passed.

    Simply put, Obama is showing grit.

    “The president was never going to come to Washington to strong-arm Republicans to get them to bend to his will,” one senior administration official said, adding that some of the president’s supporters have suggested that Obama invite Republicans out for a round of golf.

    “Republicans don’t want to play golf with the president,” the adviser said. “They don’t want to work with the president, and they have told us that in every way possible.”

    “The president will not sit around waiting for Congress,” the adviser added. But, “when the president can work with Congress, he will.”

    As I focused on Obama’s advisers sharing the president’s thought process for leading the nation, Obama was huddled with speechwriters in the Oval Office putting the final touches on his fifth State of the Union Address.

    The president’s critics say Obama still doesn’t fully understand Washington politics, but on Tuesday, White House senior advisers insisted that Obama is not naïve. The president knows Republicans despise him and will block his agenda at every opportunity, but even though Obama’s first instinct is to offer an olive branch to adversaries in hopes of a compromise, he now feels enough is enough.

    The president is tired of Republican filibusters; he’s tired of the political barricades; he’s tired of the mess.

    Is the president frustrated with the Capitol Hill gridlock? Absolutely.

    But what is more frustrating for Obama, his aides contend, is when he reads letters from Americans who share heartbreaking stories about their financial struggles. As Obama reviews the letters in the evenings, he then reflects on his inability to get Congress to act on critical legislation that could help many families in need.

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