Obama Tries to Regain the Offensive

Speech at U.N., other moves designed to portray him as effective.

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“I'm not going to allow them to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just so they can make an ideological point," President Barack Obama said in a speech Friday in Liberty, MO.

This will be a big week for President Obama as he tries to make a comeback from recent setbacks that have damaged his standing as an effective leader.

In an effort to recover, he will use the White House bully pulpit to argue his case on issues ranging from the budget to the crisis in Syria and the overall U.S. agenda in the Middle East. His advantage is that he can speak as the leader of the entire nation while his critics don't have a singular advocate who rivals the president in stature and the ability to get media attention.

Obama heads to the United Nations in New York Monday where he is expected to focus on the Middle East in a speech scheduled for Tuesday. The U.N. is considering an initiative by Russia to have the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad surrender its chemical weapons to the international community and thereby avoid military strikes by the United States.

[READ: Obama Heads to U.N. Assembly in New York]

Obama had planned the strikes as punishment for what he says was a chemical attack by the Assad regime that killed more than 1,400 civilians in August. But Obama zigzagged, first asking Congress to authorize the strikes rather than launch them on his authority as commander in chief, then backing off, at least temporarily, in an attempt to let the Russian initiative play out. The seriousness and validity of that initiative is still being debated within the Obama administration.

 

Obama's changes in course drew widespread criticism for making the United States seem indecisive and weak. But Obama's allies say he altered his approach when circumstances changed, and in the process demonstrated good judgment.

Obama may also meet in New York with newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has seemed more moderate and possibly more willing to compromise on the future of Iran's nuclear program than past Iranian leaders. An Obama-Rouhani meeting is not on the schedule but U.S. officials aren't ruling it out and they are hoping for a diplomatic breakthrough.

Separately, Obama will focus this week on trying to outmaneuver congressional Republicans on a possible government shutdown and a plan to defund his signature health care law. The Republican-controlled House has passed a funding bill to keep the government running until mid-December but the measure also would defund Obama's health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

[READ: Republicans Vote to Defund Obamacare in Spending Bill]

Obama and leaders of the Senate, controlled by Democrats, say they won't accept this measure, meaning the prospect of a government shutdown remains real over the next few weeks after the government's borrowing authority expires. If Congress and the president fail to agree on a solution, it's possible that the government could default on some of its obligations.

Obama has argued that the GOP effort to link the government's borrowing authority to defunding Obamacare amounts to extortion.

In a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner Saturday, Obama said an "extreme faction" of House Republicans is threatening "to shut down the government if we don't shut down the Affordable Care Act. Some of them are actually willing to see the United States default on its obligations and plunge this country back into a painful recession if they can't deny the basic security of health care to millions of Americans."

[REPORT: Effort to Kill Obamacare With Shutdown Won't Work]

Obama added: "It's time for these folks to stop governing by crisis and start focusing on what really matters: Creating new jobs, growing our economy, expanding opportunity for ourselves, looking after our children, doing something about the violence out there."

Obama's job approval ratings have been declining in recent weeks, and Democratic strategists are urging him to stay on the offensive to make a political recovery and regain his effectiveness.

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  • 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 "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.