It may not be as dramatic as a new president coming in to install a totally new regime in Washington. But even as President Obama celebrates his solid reelection victory, he faces a major transition challenge in reshaping his administration for a second term under less-than-ideal circumstances.
The newly triumphant-but-exhausted president is back at the White House and turning his attention to the daunting policy logjams that demand almost immediate action, not to mention the certainty that he will have to make changes in his White House senior staff and Cabinet. His choices will be closely watched for signals about whether Obama will pursue a more cooperative approach with Republicans in Congress — or a more confrontational one — than he did in his first term.
Surprisingly, on some levels, his transition task may be harder than Mitt Romney's would have been in building an administration from scratch.
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Romney would have enjoyed the honeymoon that is accorded to all newly elected presidents — even to George W. Bush after his highly contested, Supreme Court-abetted victory in 2000. But Obama's 2-point popular-vote margin was so close, and his opponents so entrenched and impassioned, that the mood in Washington during the transition is likely to be more a function of relief that the long, costly, and bitter 2012 campaign is over than a reflection of a national coming together, like the honeymoon after his win in 2008. Republicans in Congress — their control of the House confirmed — show no signs yet that they are ready to work more closely with Obama on his legislative agenda or to smooth the path for his appointees.