No matter what the exact outcome of Tuesday’s elections, there is little doubt that President Obama will come out of it wounded.
Whether or not Republicans take over the Senate, they will certainly gain seats. Even if Democrats manage to eke out a victory that maintains narrow control of the chamber, it will only be because their candidates in close races did everything they could to distance themselves from Obama.
Either way, Obama will be a lame duck president. Voters will have rebuked him and his policies. He won’t have the ability to pass major legislation, and the focus of the political world will quickly turn to candidates vying to replace him.
But being a lame duck president isn’t the same as being without power. On issues including healthcare, environmental policy, immigration, and national security, Obama has already displayed a willingness to bypass Congress to pursue his goals.
If there were anything holding him back up to this point, it was either that he was facing re-election or he was somewhat hesitant to weaken Democratic chances in an election year that would determine the composition of Congress during his last two years in office.
But his name won’t be on the ballot in 2016 and he won’t have to deal with the Congress that gets elected that year, either. This means he has every reason to take more aggressive executive actions.
Having failed to pass comprehensive immigration legislation, the White House has said Obama plans to take executive action on the issue after the election. Though it’s not clear what exactly he has in mind, the politics are obvious.
Any Republican criticism of such action — especially among GOP presidential candidates seeking to appeal to conservative primary voters — will be portrayed as anti-Hispanic ahead of the 2016 election, when the Hispanic vote will play a much larger role than it has in this year’s midterms.
Because such action won’t involve Congress, Democrats in states and districts where Obama’s action is unpopular can simply criticize the action without having to vote on it.
Obama’s Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board could also act to advance the interest of unions, while his Environmental Protection Agency could issue stricter regulations. He can also continue to issue numerous “administrative fixes” to Obamacare.
On national security matters, the Wall Street Journal has reported that Obama plans to act unilaterally to close the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detainment facility.
He could also ramp up his assault on the America's long-standing ally, Israel, pressuring the Jewish state to make concessions that put its people at risk. This week the Obama administration lashed out with an anonymous slur directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg also reported that the relationship between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations “is now the worst it’s ever been, and it stands to get significantly worse after the November midterm elections.” According to Goldberg, “By next year, the Obama administration may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations.”
The article, which includes a senior administration official gloating that Obama successfully pressured Netanyahu to avoid launching a military strike on Iran back when it could still have stopped the radical Islamic regime’s nuclear program, signaled that Obama has Iran’s back.
Obama has already caved in to the Iranians on uranium enrichment, plutonium development, and its missile program. And the New York Times has reported that if a final agreement with Iran is reached, Obama “will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.”
In short, a wounded Obama will still have many tools at his disposal for advancing his agenda, with much less reason to avoid deploying them.