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Obama’s second term: Can he work with Congress? (+video)

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"If 2009 was all about hope,” Mr. Hart said, “2013 is about the ability to cope."

Hart may very well be speaking about the president, too.

Coping for Obama could mean dealing with the reality of divided government by focusing on issues of common ground between the president and Republicans, such as immigration reform and energy policy. And when Republicans balk, the president can use the Senate and his immense political operation to deliver public pressure on House Republicans.

Coping with divided government likely won’t be aided, as many pundits suggest, by a president who slaps more GOP backs or has more Republicans over to the White House for movies and cards. The president isn’t likely to win fans for his legislative agenda by trying to pal around with rock-ribbed Republicans with fundamentally different views about the role of government in American life.

“The president has been criticized by many people for his inability or unwillingness to spend a lot of time stroking members of Congress,” says Ross Baker, a congressional historian at Rutgers University who is writing a book on bipartisanship in the US Senate. “I think a lot of this is based upon the widely-accepted theory [that the] power of a presidency is the power to persuade – which is perfectly plausible, and it was certainly plausible in the 1950s.... The problem is, there are no persuadables" today.

But by focusing on issues of common ground with the GOP, Washington could generate some bipartisan successes in the next four years.

Immigration and Energy

For one, the president could team up with Republican moderates and much of the party’s leadership on immigration reform.

“We believe that immigration reform is different in that it has a past, present, and future of bipartisan support,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “What we’ve seen over the last two years is conservatives, moderates, and liberals want this president and this Congress to act, and that’s different from any other issue.”

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