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White House Looks Past Congress for Its Agenda

President Barack Obama is heading into the next year looking in many ways past a gridlocked Congress — eyeing regulations and other ways of acting on his stalled agenda.

A senior administration official held a deep background briefing for reporters Tuesday, under the condition that no direct quotes would be reported.

The official said that while Congress is important — and the president still hopes to pass an immigration overhaul, an unemployment benefits extension and assorted other measures in the coming year, such as a surface transportation bill — he will increasingly look to his pen to take executive actions and his phone to advocate efforts aside from legislation.

That includes pushing forward on the president’s climate change agenda, which includes a crackdown on carbon emissions from power plants.

The executive action push isn’t particularly new, of course — the administration has been talking up executive actions since the Republicans took back the House in 2010.

But the renewed emphasis comes after numerous presidential legislative initiatives crashed and burned in 2013 — yielding perhaps more realism inside the White House of its prospects for success in a divided government.

Heading into the Jan. 28 State of the Union address, the president will be focusing in the coming few weeks on trying to finish up last year’s unfinished business, including unemployment benefits. He will also be unveiling his recommendations for revising the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. He is set to meet Thursday with lawmakers to discuss the topic.

There remains hope in the White House that House Republicans will ultimately agree to pass an immigration bill this year, but the official said GOP leaders will have to decide whether they want to do it. The president will keep pushing the issue but will not be beating Speaker John A. Boehner up every day to pass the Senate bill. The goal is to give the Ohio Republican space to find a way to get it done.

The official said that the president continues to have strong support from his political base but has lost 5 to 7 points since Election Day, largely from moderates. He pointed to the government shutdown, the Affordable Care Act website’s woes and the NSA issue as distractions from what the public wants the president’s focus to be on: the economy and jobs.

And Obama’s poll ratings are still better than other leaders and institutions in Washington, despite the fact that a recent Gallup poll showed the president dropping from a high of 52 percent favorability at the beginning of 2013 to a low of 41 percent.

The official also downplayed the possibility of more sweeping White House staff changes to come at the start of the year, including any purge of officials involved in the rollout of the website. The focus remains on improving implementation of the health care law and ramping up outreach efforts now that the website has dramatically improved from where it was Oct. 1.

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