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Does Obama Still Have Enough Political ‘Juice’ to Wrangle Congress?

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The Morning Line

President Barack Obama marked the 100th day of his second term Tuesday with a customary news conference that highlighted the fresh challenges and unresolved business facing his administration.

During his 48-minute session with reporters in the White House briefing room, Mr. Obama fielded questions on Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, the administration’s review of intelligence gathering prior to last month’s Boston Marathon bombings and his ability to pressure Congress to act on his legislative agenda.

At the same time, the president also addressed issues that came up during his first four years in office — the debate over closing the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, implementation of the health care reform law and the push to pass comprehensive immigration reform. (In fact, all three of those issues came up in one way or another [during the president’s 2009 press conference](http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/news-conference-president-4292009) on his 100th day in office.)

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman rounded up Mr. Obama’s key remarks in this report.

On Guantanamo Bay, the president was asked to respond to reports that a majority of the 166 prisoners at the facility are engaging in a hunger strike, with 21 of them being force-fed through tubes inserted in their noses.

“I don’t want these individuals to die,” the president said. “Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this.”

Mr. Obama also pledged to “reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people.”

Gwen Ifill spoke with New York Times reporter Charlie Savage on the rhetoric versus reality when it comes to closing Guantanamo Bay:

But the president’s ability to sway members of Congress also came under scrutiny, in the form of a question from Jonathan Karl of ABC News.

“Do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?” Karl asked.

“If you put it that way, Jonathan, maybe I should just pack up and go home,” Mr. Obama responded. “Golly.”

The president went on to say that he was confident about the prospects of passing an immigration bill through both chambers of Congress and added that he’d had “good conversations” with lawmakers in both parties on reaching a long-term deficit reduction deal.

Still, he dismissed the idea that it was his responsibility to get lawmakers “to behave.”

“That’s their job,” the president said. “Members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people.”

Judy Woodruff examined the president’s relationship with Congress with Dan Balz of the Washington Post and Politico’s Glenn Thrush, who filed this Politico story after Tuesday’s news conference.

“I think a lot of this has to do with the predicate that the president himself established during the first four years. He doesn’t have great relationships on the Hill with Democrats or Republicans,” Thrush said. “And at this point in time, he needs to have leverage up on the Hill, and he just can’t rely on relationships.”

Balz, meanwhile, said dynamic between the branches of government has changed, which means the president has had to alter his approach.

“There are sometimes analogies made to Lyndon Johnson, and he should be more like Lyndon Johnson, you know, breaking arms and legs and twisting everybody,” Balz said.

“The fact is, that doesn’t work the way it used to. This is a different time. The Congress is different. The country is so divided, red and blue, that it’s just hard for any chief executive to operate that way and, as we have seen, for congressional leaders to get their way sometimes.”

Watch the segment here or below:

After laying out an ambitious agenda in his second inaugural address, the president has had to grapple with stinging defeats of key pieces of legislation, most notably expanded background checks, as well as unforeseen developments like those in Syria and Boston. The president could certainly use a quick legislative victory to boost his second term, but the most promising element now in the works — immigration reform — appears to be months away. And not only that, the fate of the bill appears to rest mostly with members of Congress.

ABORTION DEBATE SHIFTS TO THE STATES

As jurors deliberate in the murder trial of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell, correspondent Jeffrey Brown took a look at how the fight over abortion is playing out at the state legislative level. He reported on the five states in recent months that have made moves to restrict access to abortion or to the clinics where it’s performed.

Then Brown moderated a debate with Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life and Ilyse Hogue, newly installed head of NARAL Pro-Choice America. The two sparred, but agreed they each are outraged by the charges outlined against Gosnell. The segment ended with a handshake.

Watch here or below:

The two organizations had come together for a debate on the NewsHour in January to mark the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Yoest and former NARAL president Nancy Keenan described how their efforts had changed more recently:

Both Yoest and Hogue penned op-eds for our website. Find those here and here.

LINE ITEMS

  • With primary votes now in, Democrat veteran Congressman Ed Markey will face Republican businessman Gabriel Gomez in the Massachusetts special election for U.S. Senate on June 25.

  • Here’s why Gomez isn’t likely the next Scott Brown.

  • Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte finds herself as on the hotseat over gun policy in New Hampshire town hall meetings this week. She’s also the focus of Concord Monitor, Washington Post and New York Times stories Tuesday and Wednesday. Constituents, including the daughter of murdered Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, challenged Ayotte Tuesday on her vote against the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill.

  • Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., sees a glass half empty on a second gun background checks vote in the Senate, he told a Pennsylvania newspaper editorial board.

  • Authorities found ricin in the former martial arts studio of the Mississippi man arrested on suspicion of sending poison-laced letters to the president and members of Congress.

  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said on WTOP radio Tuesday that his administration never gave special treatment to a dietary supplement company that is under a federal securities investigation, despite more than $100,000 in political contributions from its chief executive and thousands of dollars more in gifts to McDonnell’s family.

  • Progressive Change Campaign Committee is debuting a TV ad Wednesday targeting Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., on his vote against background checks, calling on him to “put Montana first.”

  • The House Majority PAC passed along this attack video against House Republicans.

  • Mr. Obama will nominate Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., Wednesday to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

  • No official word on the agenda for Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston’s two news conferences Thursday, but a “kickoff reception” scheduled for Friday suggests the Republican will become the third member to enter the race for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat.

  • Apparently Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has seen some of the public opinion numbers his fellow Republicans have seen. He’s announced that he now supports same-sex couples adopting, although he’s still opposed to same-sex marriage.

  • Better late than never: FreedomWorks endorses former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford in the South Carolina special congressional race. So does Sen. Rand Paul.

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to debut a $1.5 million 60 second TV spot Wednesday. It’s the first ad of the Republican’s re-election campaign.

  • Senate Democrats and staffers expect Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to introduce an amendment in committee extending the benefits of immigration reform to same-sex couples. But while Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has co-sponsored a bill with Leahy that would allow green card petitions on behalf of “permanent partners,” Republicans warn that such an amendment could kill the immigration bill.

  • Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett says job applicants who can’t pass drug tests are a “serious problem” in his state. Addressing Pennsylvania’s troubling unemployment rate on Radio PA, Corbett said, “The other area is, there are many employers who say, ‘We’re looking for people, but we can’t find anybody that’s passed a drug test,’ a lot of them.” Pennsylvania’s overall unemployment rate was down from 8.1% in February, to 7.9% in March — slightly higher than the national rate of 7.6%.

  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn’t happy with his hometown paper of record’s choice not to cover the murder of a black teen in the Bronx.

  • Democrats in West Virginia are still seeking a candidate. Rep. Nick Rahall has decided not to challenge Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito for retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s seat, opting to run for a 20th term in the House instead.

  • Virginia Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat, will face opposition in 2014 from a conservative activist, Ron Meyer Jr., who at 23 is not yet old enough to serve in the House.

  • National Review writes Wednesday morning freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is considering a bid for the presidency in 2016.

  • Cruz will headline a Republican Party dinner in New York. Also in this story: “squishy”?

  • The Washington Post looks at poll numbers and finds campaign finance reform just isn’t a top priority among voters.

  • The mayor’s race in Pittsburgh is getting messy — so much so that the current mayor, who is stepping down, is behind the group running ads against a possible successor, the Post-Gazette reports.

  • Congress got a lesson in the alphabet this week.

  • At the end of Mr. Obama’s news conference Tuesday, he agreed to say a few words about now openly gay NBA player Jason Collins.

  • A lesser known billionaire Koch brother — William, brother of Charles and David, the conservative activists — will see his collection of Western frontier art on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in summer 2014.

  • Female reporters don’t all wear hipster glasses, and other musings on the Hollywood stereotype by Neda Semnani.

  • USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page landed the first major interview with study-abroad-student-turned-murder-defendant Amanda Knox.

  • Sorry, infield partiers! Preakness officials are beefing up security this year at the annual Triple Crown race, so you’ll need clear coolers and can’t bring backpacks.

  • Oh, it’s on.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Correspondent Ray Suarez spoke with Evan Perez of the Wall Street Journal for an update on the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings, and the federal review of how 17 agencies handled tips they’d received about Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

  • NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser examined the availability and abuse of prescription drugs. Here are the CDC’s top 10 things you should know about prescription drug abuse. Desk assistant Laura Sciuto rounds up key facts about the most abused prescription drugs in America.

  • NewsHour science producer Jenny Marder explains the science of falling space junk — and the chances of it hitting humans — in Tuesday’s Lunch in the Lab.

  • Headhunter Nick Corcodilos outlines the four elements of the “Ask the Headhunter” approach to landing a job on our Making Sense page. And Nick hosted a live chat about the job search, resumes and networking on Tuesday.

TOP TWEETS

Christina Bellantoni, Tiffany Mullon and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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