WASHINGTON (AP) — With the prospect of a military strike on Syria receding, President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to refocus on a pressing domestic agenda as key benchmarks on the budget and health care quickly approach.
The big unknown is whether Obama's standing with the lawmakers he needs to support his agenda has been damaged after what even allies acknowledge were missteps on Syria.
The president, speaking at the beginning of a meeting with his Cabinet, said that while the crisis in Syria still requires international attention, Washington needed to turn its attention to issues that matter most to the American people.
"It is still important to recognize that we have a lot of things left to do here in this government," Obama said. "The American people are still interested in making sure that our kids are getting the kind of education they deserve, that we are putting people back to work."
In the three weeks following a deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria, the White House has been consumed with plotting a potential military strike — a step that is deeply unpopular with the majority of the American people, according to polls. While the administration had appeared earlier this month to be barreling toward an imminent strike, Obama made a sudden reversal and instead decided to seek congressional approval for military action.
Even after administration officials briefed hundreds of lawmakers on classified intelligence, there appeared to be limited backing for a use-of-force resolution on Capitol Hill. Rather than face defeat, Obama asked lawmakers this week to postpone any votes while the U.S. explores the viability of a diplomatic deal to secure Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.
That pause comes as a relief to Obama and many Democrats eager to return to issues more in line with the public's concerns. The most pressing matters are a Sept. 30 deadline to approve funding to keep the government open and the Oct. 1 start of sign-ups for health care exchanges, a crucial element of the president's overhaul.
On Wednesday, a revolt by tea party conservatives forced House Republican leaders to delay a vote on a temporary spending bill written to head off a government shutdown. Several dozen staunch conservatives are seeking to couple the spending bill with a provision to derail implementation of the health care law.
The president also renewed his calls Thursday for an overhaul of the nation's broken immigration laws, saying the issue is still of "enormous importance." While the Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill earlier this year, the measure has gained little traction in the Republican-led House.
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