Obama indicated that he still subscribes to a modified version of the "Republican fever" theory, expressing hope that the GOP might someday have a change of heart and go along with his proposals. But he clearly indicated that for the moment, he will move on to other things. "We can't let political gridlock around the budget stand in the way of other areas where we can make progress," Obama said, mentioning immigration, gun control, the minimum wage, and other issues he will pursue.
To Republicans, Obama's words were a sign that a fever had broken -- and it wasn't the GOP's. "I definitely read a change in tone in that press conference," said one Senate aide. "Obama's tone has clearly shifted on the sequester. By using his press conference to call out those who've been predicting the apocalypse over the past few weeks, he was really calling out nobody more than himself. In that moment, I think, a lot of Republicans realized that the ground had shifted in this debate. The president overplayed his hand, and he knows it."
"I thought the real news of the press conference was his admission that sequestration isn't the apocalypse," said another Senate aide. "And basically that the sky won't fall. If he doesn't direct his administration to pull the sky down (illegal immigrant releases, etc.) in the next few months, that will be a sign that his fever is breaking and he is ready to move on. Both Boehner and McConnell are adamant about not raising more taxes so hopefully he sees the writing on the wall."
Some in the GOP saw public opinion at work. "The three-day Gallup tracking numbers certainly aren't good for him," said one House aide, pointing to surveys placing Obama's job approval rating at 47 percent approve versus 45 percent disapprove -- down from a post-election approval rating that topped out at 56 percent.
Other Republicans saw Obama's move as a temporary change in tactics as the president continues the fight to raise taxes. But in the end, Republicans are welcoming the president's change in tone, even if it is just a temporary accommodation.
Still, they don't see him changing his basic position on questions of spending and taxes, and they don't see any easier days ahead when Obama shifts from budget fights to his core second-term priorities. "Republicans need to understand that President Obama has no more intention of negotiating in good faith on immigration than he has on fiscal issues," said one last Senate aide. "His goal is to weaken the GOP so that he is in a better position to implement his agenda."