The Members of the 113th Congress return on Monday having accomplished little and have very competitive off-year congressional elections looming on November 4th. Congressional leaders had let it be known before their summer recess that they hoped to adjourn by the end of September to return home for the campaign season. Congress’s priority list requires first and foremost that the FY 2015 budget—or as is more likely a stop-gap continuing resolution–be in place when the new fiscal year begins on October 1. The House-Senate rivalry plus partisan tensions within both chambers as well as with the White House, make the pressure to get out on the hustings and bring the session to a recess until a lame duck session later in November all the more pressing. Other than grandstanding and politicking, there is not any likelihood of serious legislating to transpire. There also will probably not be a governmental shut-down even if one is threatened.
President Obama has thrown in the towel on his key domestic issue, immigration, until after the election; be it through executive orders or legislative action. His international agenda, meanwhile, is overflowing. He needs to resolve the modalities of America’s completion of its withdrawal from Afghanistan; decide how much to push Congress to permit him to expand U.S. engagement in pursuit of the Islamic State (more of that coming this Wednesday night); in response to the continuing Russian mischief on Ukraine, how much U.S. participation will there be in the expanded NATO rapid deployment force; how effectively can he exploit the U.N. General Assembly meeting to facilitate some of U.S. interests; can he bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table after the Gaza War and the Netanyahu land grab; will he meet directly with Iran; and will he meet with Putin if he comes and is there any possibility that Russia can be constrained?
There are two key questions which the President faces at this time and they both involve leadership. First, is there any possibility that that the Congress will come together now in a bi-partisan effort on any of the foreign policy issues or will the President be left trying to move ahead with the Republicans only trying to score points and undermine any new initiative? Second, will the President and his team effectively present a position to the international community which demonstrates an ability and a willingness on the part of the President to truly place the U.S. in a leadership role in combatting the daunting issues which the world faces; despite his personal leadership ambivalences which he would need to overcome?