Barack Obama enjoys 'comeback kid' bounce
President Barack Obama on Wednesday cemented his status as an unlikely "comeback kid" following the midterm election defeat by ending the ban on openly gay troops and securing the votes needed to ratify a nuclear arms treaty.
At a press conference before departing for his Christmas holiday in Hawaii, Mr Obama hailed a “season of progress” and declared the previous seven weeks “the most productive post-election period we’ve had in decades”.
By striking a bipartisan tax deal and winning backing for both the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia and the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy on gays, Mr Obama has rebounded to an extent few predicted.
“If there’s any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it’s that we are not doomed to endless gridlock,” Mr Obama said. “We’ve shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress but to make progress together.”
In his press conference, Mr Obama gave a more assured and commanding performance than had been seen in several months.
With Republicans riding high after what Mr Obama admitted was a "shellacking" for Democrats in the November midterms, expectations were low for the White House achieving anything in the "lame duck" Congress this year.
Polls suggest that Mr Obama's political fortunes may now be improving. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll released this week found that 48pc of Americans approved of how Mr Obama was handling his job with the same number disapproving.
The disapproval number was the lowest it's been since May and was down from a high of 54pc in September. Mr Obama also received more support for his policies than at any other time since the middle of 2009 with 55pc saying the country was heading in the right direction.
Charles Krauthammer, the prominent conservative commentator, this week compared Mr Obama to former president Bill Clinton, the "greatest of all comeback kids".
Mr Clinton dubbed himself the "comeback kid" after finishing second in the New Hampshire primary in 1992. The nickname was revived when he recovered after a stunning defeat in the 1994 midterms to win re-election in 1996.
Krauthammer wrote that despite "holding no high cards", Mr Obama "nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator and central actor". He concluded: "Obama fashioned out of thin air his return to relevance."
Mr Obama appeared buoyed by his recent victories as he signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal bill on Wednesday. He was surrounded by gay and lesbian veterans who applauded his narrow legislative victory, which fulfilled a key campaign promise.
They included Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, a US Marine who became the first American serviceman to be seriously injured in the Iraq war when he stepped on a landmine in March 2003, losing his right leg.
He said: "No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country that they love,"
Senators passed the START treaty by 71 votes to 26. Mr Obama had described START as vital to his "reset" of ties with Moscow.
Under the treaty, the US and Russia are each restricted to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, a cut of about 30pc from a limit set in 2002, and 800 launchers and bombers.
It will also grant access to US inspectors who have been unable to monitor Russia's arsenal since the treaty's predecessor lapsed in December 2009.
Republicans warn, however, that Mr Obama's comeback might be short-lived. The new Congress voted in at the start of November, the biggest defeat for a President's party in more than 60 years, will not be seated until next month.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, rejected the notion that Mr Obama, whom he has vowed to make a one-term president by ensuring he is defeated in 2012, is resurgent.
"Charles Krauthammer's very smart, but on this, he's totally wrong," he said.