No More Mr. Nice Guy

President Obama is taking on Republicans and displaying less of a soft touch than in the past.

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President Barack Obama speaks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington after meeting with Congressional leaders regarding the fiscal cliff on Dec. 28, 2012.
President Barack Obama speaks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington after meeting with Congressional leaders regarding the fiscal cliff on Dec. 28, 2012.

President Obama's soft touch is fading fast as he shows more toughness toward conservative opponents in Congress.

"We'll be using the word, 'fight,' a lot this year," says Bill Galston, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution and former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Gone, it appears, is the president who pledged to work as closely as possible with his adversaries and find ways to bridge differences in Washington. His advisers say he has learned from bitter experience that such an approach won't succeed because his opponents always seem eager to block his agenda and defeat his initiatives.

Galston observes that Obama is showing a "weary resignation" that the country is so deeply polarized and he really can't work smoothly with the Republicans, especially hard-liners in the House.

So Obama, propelled by his solid re-election victory and riding relatively high job-approval ratings that exceed 50 percent, is taking on the GOP in various ways.

[READ: Obama Stands on Solid Political Ground as Inauguration Nears]

He has nominated former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as Defense secretary, even though there is strong opposition from neoconservatives who consider Hagel too much of a maverick and a dove on the Iraq war, on Iran, and other issues. Some Democrats have joined neoconservatives in expressing concern that Hagel's commitment to Israel isn't as ironclad as they want it to be.

Still, Obama developed a simpatico with Hagel, a decorated Vietnam war veteran, when they both served in the Senate and wants the former Nebraska legislator on his team.

Obama has served notice that he will go all out to push for gun-control measures as a response to the massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut last month. Obama is having Vice President Joe Biden map out a plan to achieve his goals through legislation and also by bypassing Congress through executive orders and other unilateral actions.

He pushed for and won tax increases on the rich in the recent fiscal cliff showdown over the budget.

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on the Deficit and Budget]

Now Obama insists that he won't negotiate with Congress over increasing the debt ceiling, which he says should be raised because the legislators have already approved spending the money, and the federal government needs to keep its commitments.

He has taken a hard line against cutting the deficit solely by slashing spending, and argues that more revenue is also needed.

He promises to finally make immigration reform a signature issue after four years of delay and despite conservative objections that he would be too lenient on illegal immigrants.

"It looks like the second term of Barack Obama is going to be an in-your-face term," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told Politico.

[READ: Obama Criticized for Lack of Diversity in Cabinet Appointments]

To some Washington veterans, it comes down to creating momentum from one battle to another. "If you win the first, it gives you strength to win the second," added Ari Fleischer, who was President George W. Bush's White House press secretary. "If you win the second, it gives you strength to win the third. But if you lose the first, you have less strength for the second and so on."

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.