WASHINGTON - As President Barack Obama remakes his senior staff, he is also shaping a new approach for the second half of his term: advancing his agenda through executive actions he can take on his own, rather than pushing plans through an increasingly hostile Congress.
A flurry of staff departures and promotions is playing out as the White House ends a nearly two-year period of intense legislative activity. Where the original staff was built to give Obama maximum clout in Congress, the new White House team won't need the same leverage with lawmakers. "It's fair to say that the next phase is going to be less about legislative action than it is about managing the change that we've brought," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said.
Rahm Emanuel, a former member of Congress who helped establish the Democratic majority in the House, resigned Oct. 1 as White House chief of staff. His successor, for now, is Pete Rouse, a former congressional aide expected to have a more operational role, making sure strategy is carried out and that the new laws Emanuel labored to pass don't fail through poor implementation.
Winning passage of legislation wasn't easy for Obama even with Democrats in firm control of both houses of Congress.
"Whether or not the Republicans take over majorities in one or both houses, the margins will be so much narrower that the strategy of putting together a Democratic bill and picking off a handful of Republicans to push it over the top won't be viable anymore," said William Galston of the Brookings Institution.
So the best arena for Obama to execute his plans may be his own branch of government. That means more executive orders, more use of the bully pulpit, and more deployment of his ample regulatory powers and the wide-ranging rule-making authority of his cabinet members.
"The White House is showing no effort to work with Republicans," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. "It has shown no interest in listening to the American people and has at all costs tried to ram through legislation that was tremendously unpopular."
With health care and financial regulatory packages passed, the Obama administration is now focused on putting the measures in place, which could change the way Americans get medical treatment, take out mortgages, and deal with banks and credit card companies.
One area of likely administration action is climate change: Legislation curbing emissions that cause global warming is stalled in Congress. A major effort is also under way to set up the regulatory apparatus aimed at preventing another collapse of the financial system.