If Obama gets his way, two of the most important pieces of his legacy — an Iran deal, and a global climate treaty — will involve comprehensive international settlements. Hillary Clinton will all but certainly support an eventual Iran deal, and she’s already pledged to protect all of Obama’s climate actions “at all cost.” Thus, she will be for international engagement as the solution to two of the most pressing problems the country faces: The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and climate change. Meanwhile, on Iran and climate, the eventual 2016 GOP presidential nominee will probably have pledged to undo whatever Obama has achieved — locking him on both fronts into a position of staunch opposition to international engagement.In other words, President Obama is laying out the issues on which the 2016 presidential race will focus. The only thing I'd add is that it's not limited to the two issues of the Iran deal and a global climate treaty.
Remember when Republicans got so angry that President Obama didn't take the shellacking Democrats experienced in the 2014 midterms and present himself as humbled and contrite? Instead he decided to dump the whole idea of a lame duck and play on until the buzzer sounded at the end of his second term.
In our recent history, presidents who made it to a second term have typically been mired in controversy in their final years. Nixon had Watergate. Reagan had Iran/Contra. Clinton had impeachment over Lewinsky. Those distractions added fuel to the whole concept of lame duck presidents in their final years.
President Obama is charting new territory with some of his most important actions coming in the fourth quarter of the game. Those include not only a potential Iran deal and global climate treaty, but his actions on immigration, net neutrality and normalization of relations with Cuba. Still to come are things like the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement and further action to spur criminal justice reform.
That transformation means that the President's agenda sets the tone for a lot of the narrative that will consume 2016 candidates. I am reminded of the fact that this is exactly how one Obama advisor described their "to do list" a few months ago.
One senior Obama adviser says the administration "To Do list" after 2012 included thinking "about how you lock in the Obama coalition for Democrats going forward. Because it's not a 100 percent certainty that they come out for the next Democrat." Part of the answer, the adviser said, was to pursue aggressive unilateral action on "a set of issues where we have an advantage … and believe are substantively the right thing to do" and dare Republicans to oppose him.In other words, "Please proceed, Republicans."