President Barack Obama must demonstrate passion that he’s been lacking when he gives the annual State of the Union speech to Congress Jan. 28, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said.
Obama’s remarks should reflect the “universal recognition” that income inequality is an issue and find common ground with Republicans, Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
“There’s a little bit of a feeling of lethargy right now,” said Daschle, a policy adviser at the law firm DLA Piper LLP. “He’s had some setbacks. I think he needs to re-engage and re-energize, and I think he’ll do that.”
Daschle, 66, who left the Senate after losing his re-election bid in 2004, said Obama should build better relationships with lawmakers and use the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland to end partisan stalemates.
Both parties have dueled over fiscal policy since Republicans won the House of Representatives in 2010. The next deadline is in February as the federal debt limit needs to be raised. Republicans want to attach policy changes to the increase; Obama insists he won’t negotiate.
“You can’t give up” looking for compromise, Daschle said. “You’ve got to keep trying. You’ve got to find ways to break out of the normal venues.”
Daschle was Obama’s choice to be secretary of health and human services in 2009. He wasn’t confirmed after congressional vetting of his finances showed that he had failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes.
Daschle critiqued his successor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for blocking Republican-backed amendments from reaching the Senate floor.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, should find a way to let Senate Republicans vote on some of their preferred items, he said.
“There’s a tendency to want to direct the debate and keep the debate as contained as you can,” Daschle said.
Daschle said he expects Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016 and that she had garnered an unusual amount of support at an early stage of a campaign. In the 2008 Democratic primaries, the New York senator and former first lady had similar support and lost the party’s presidential nomination to Obama.
Clinton, 66, who stepped down early last year as Obama’s secretary of state, should be seen as a “normal human being” for a while, Daschle said.
“You have to be a little concerned about the level of visibility and the perception that you’re trying to lock out others,” he said.
On the Republican side, controversies surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have hurt his possible presidential aspirations at a time when he already is viewed skeptically by the party’s base, Tom Davis, a Republican consultant, said on the same program.
“His numbers are down in New Jersey, No. 1 -- I mean, his whole appeal is, ‘I’m the winner,’” Davis, a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman from Virginia, said.
Christie’s approval rating fell to 53 percent from 68 percent -- losing support among Republicans, Democrats and independents -- according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Jan. 22. He has faced inquiries about his office’s spending of Hurricane Sandy aid and its ties to politically motivated traffic congestion at the George Washington Bridge.
“He’s never going to be the darling of the party base,” said Davis, now director of federal government affairs for Deloitte Consulting. “But, you know, they can make a contract with him: If you can win, you can help advance the agenda. But it’s all based on the fact that he can win in a blue state. And when his numbers go down -- if he turns upside-down, for example, in his own state -- I think that takes the patina off him and he becomes more vulnerable.”
Christie, 51, was the first Republican since 1985 to win more than 60 percent of the vote in a New Jersey governor’s race. He was third, behind U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, in a hypothetical Republican presidential primary match-up, according to a Quinnipiac University poll this week.
Republicans can win seats in Congress this year if Obama continues to focus on divisive issues like income inequality, Davis said. Obama should focus his State of the Union speech next week on trying to unite lawmakers by talking about reducing the deficit, he said.
“He ought to preach unity at this point,” Davis said. “Part of his problem right now is you have a very polarized country.”
Davis predicted his party, which has a majority in the House but not the Senate, would pick up seats in the November elections. Still, Republicans face long-term problems, he said, pointing to at least 18 states -- with about 238 electoral votes -- that Democratic presidential candidates have won in six consecutive elections. At least 270 electoral votes are needed to win the White House.
“Even if the Republicans pick up the Senate, two years from now it’ll be jeopardized again,” he said. “If you’re Republicans, you have to figure, what part of that Democratic coalition can we pick off? Young people come to mind right away.”
Republican Governors John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin may help the party pick up crucial states in 2016, Davis said, if they win re-election this year and if either one becomes the Republican presidential nominee. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush might do that, too, he said.
“His biggest plus is, frankly, not that he’s a Bush,” Davis said of former President George W. Bush’s younger brother. “It’s the fact that he was a very good governor and he’s from a very swing state and had a pretty outstanding record.”
Davis, who represented northern Virginia in the House, said there are lessons for his party in the indictment this week of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who was viewed as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were accused by U.S. prosecutors of using his office to enrich himself and his family in exchange for helping an in-state company’s chief executive promote a dietary supplement.
“It’s a warning shot at this point that you’re in office, if you want to make money, you leave office,” Davis said.