Weighed down by a gridlocked Congress and a dismal approval rating, President Obama's second term has yet to achieve liftoff. But that might be about to change: The White House this week announced that John Podesta, longtime Democratic strategist and Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, would be coming aboard for one year to help the president improve his standing and revive his moribund agenda.
Podesta's hiring comes at a crucial time for the administration. Obama's approval rating has slipped to a new low of 38 percent, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday. And the White House has spent the past two-plus months trying to win public support for the fledgling health-care law, as well as regain an aura of competence that vanished when the online exchange stumbled out of the gate.
Adding Podesta, who has a reputation for effective management, could help the administration bolster its oversight of the law. He will reportedly work directly with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on issues related to the Affordable Care Act.
Further, Podesta could inject a much-needed outside viewpoint into an administration that has been criticized for being too insular. Also, his hiring could mollify the calls for Obama to fire someone over the health-care debacle, which the president has been unwilling to do.
"It addresses the closed-loop argument," a congressional aide told Politico. "You're bringing in someone who is more independent of the whole Obama apparatus."
On another front, Podesta's hiring signals that the White House will pursue more robust executive actions to enact the president's policies.
This year was one of the least productive in history for Congress, with ambitious gun control and immigration reform legislation dying slow deaths. Pursuing any big legislation as next year's midterm elections get underway would be "an absolute nonstarter," said The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. Instead, Obama could pursue pieces of his agenda via executive orders and through federal agencies — think the EPA's environmental regulations.
As Cillizza noted, Podesta himself endorsed that approach in a 2010 paper for the Center for American Progress.
"Concentrating on executive powers presents a real opportunity for the Obama administration to turn its focus away from a divided Congress and the unappetizing process of making legislative sausage," he wrote.
Podesta's policy positions could also influence how the White House approaches major issues in the near future.
Most notably, he opposed the Keystone pipeline, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last year, "Our economy can go from being weighed down by oil imports to soaring ahead, powered increasingly by domestically produced clean energy, and energy services and technology." No surprise, then, that Keystone backers are concerned about his new job.
Obama has signaled before that he would like to truly address environmental concerns, including climate change, in his second term. Adding Podesta to the mix could jumpstart that effort.
On income inequality — an issue which Democrats are rallying behind of late — Podesta could also help push a more progressive line. Last month, he launched the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, an organization whose mission dovetails nicely with the president's renewed focus on the issue. And this week, he wrote an op-ed in Politico building off Obama's recent speech on the economy.
Last but certainly not least, Podesta could single-handedly force the administration to reveal what it knows about aliens. A long shot, sure, but you never know. Maybe he'll re-open the X-Files.