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Objective

To trace the relationship between Barack Obama and Congress during his first term.

Methods

A largely qualitative review of the literature on presidential-congressional relations and of Obama's interactions with Congress and the lessons he drew from them.

Results

Obama's practice, if not his rhetoric, shifted even before 2010 from an effort to transcend partisanship to using it to pass his legislative program. After the debt crisis negotiations of 2011, the president has sought to run against, and around, the legislative branch.

Conclusions

Polarized preferences and rigid partisanship made it impossible for Obama to expect large-scale change to attract consensual support. That does not appear likely to change in the near future, whoever is president after the 2012 election.