Obama: ‘Pen and Phone’

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

U.S. President Obama arrives to speak in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 7, 2014.

President Barack Obama has “a pen and a phone.”

He said so today.

What he doesn’t have is either a majority of the Republican-run House or a filibuster-proof majority of the Democratic-led Senate — except on that question of  some executive appointments which Senate leaders have decided to advance by majority votes.

So if Congress won’t act on much of his agenda, the president said today at his first Cabinet meeting of the new year, he will pull out his pen and get on the phone.

He will use the pen, he told reporters during a brief availability in the Cabinet room, to sign executive actions like those which he has signed on immigration and firearm safety.

He will use the phone, he said, to rally non-profit and private-sector support for his agenda. He will be traveling to the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina tomorrow, for instance, to talk about hubs for manufacturing innovation; He will be meeting with university presidents to talk about making college more accessible and with CEOs about committing to hiring the long-term unemployed.

“So overall, the message to my Cabinet and that will be amplified in our State of the Union, is that we need all hands on deck to build on the recovery that we’re already seeing,” Obama said. “The economy is improving, but it’s in need of improving even faster.”

The president cannot raise the federal minimum wage with his pen, he cannot extend unemployment insurance for 1.3 million people whose benefits have lapsed, he can’t stop global warming and he can’t offer the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. a path to citizenship. But he apparently plans to use the phone more to achieve some of that.

The State of the Union comes Jan. 28 — the White House already has indicated that the minimum wage will be part of the agenda.

Pens ready.

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