President Barack Obama and the Republicans are again on a collision course. Each side wants to motivate core constituencies to vote in the November midterm election, and what's shaping up is a fierce war to energize each party's base voters.
Turnout in the midterms is usually much lower than in presidential elections, with centrists and many other voters not very motivated to show up at the polls. But partisans of both parties are more likely to cast ballots if they are sufficiently motivated, and so that is where Obama and the Democrats, on one hand, and the Republicans, on the other, are making their big push.
This dynamic is on display not only in Congress but in an ongoing battle between the White House and allied Democratic governors versus Republican governors, who disagree with the White House on a number of key issues. On Monday, the dispute intensified after Obama met with the nation's governors at the White House. What was supposed to be a show of cooperation degenerated into a harsh showdown. The minimum wage was one flashpoint.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican and possible presidential candidate in 2016, said Obama "seems to be waving the white flag of surrender" and has given up the hope of generating a strong economy. He said the best Obama can do is support an increase in the minimum wage, which Jindal said is totally inadequate. "After more than five years under this administration, the Obama economy is now the minimum-wage economy," Jindal told reporters. "I think we can do better than that. I think America can do better than that."
But Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, then told reporters, "I don't know what the heck is a reference to a 'white flag' when it comes to people making $404 a week. That is the most insane statement I've ever heard."
As my U.S. News colleague David Catanese pointed out in an earlier story, this exchange followed meetings at the White House in which President Obama took a more confrontational approach toward governors who disagree with him, at least according to GOP governors who attended the session. Some of these state leaders, agreeing with many congressional Republicans, say Obama is going too far in using his executive powers to bypass the House and Senate.
But Obama isn't backing off. In fact, using his executive power is a way for him to show his Democratic constituents that he is working on their shared agenda despite resistance from congressional conservatives.
Earlier this week, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer emailed Obama supporters and reporters an update on how the president is using his executive power. "A few weeks ago, I shared with you that President Obama would declare 2014 a year of action, acting where he can to build an economy that ensures opportunity for all Americans. And he's already taken steps to achieve that goal in the areas of education and skills, job creation, energy, and raising the minimum wage. I wanted you to be the first to know about new actions the president will take this week to keep that progress going. This week, the president will announce new action on manufacturing, infrastructure and transportation jobs, and a new initiative to ensure everyone who is willing to work hard has a shot at success."
All this is a sign that the remainder of 2014 will feature more of the same ideological battles that have dominated Washington for the past few years.