President Obama oversaw the deepest legislative malaise in modern political history, according to the Washington Times Legislative Index, which captures his struggles to find ways to work with a Congress that ranged from lukewarm to openly hostile toward him.
Over the course of his eight years, he has signed just 1,227 bills into law — less, even, than one-term Presidents Carter and George H.W. Bush. Digging deeper into the numbers, Congress spent less time in session, handled fewer business on the chamber floors and generally sputtered for much of Mr. Obama’s tenure, according to The Times’ index.
Blame for the poor showing falls across Washington. Some analysts say a Congress with four years of divided control hamstrung Mr. Obama, while others say the president failed to find ways to work with the legislature that voters gave him — particularly after the 2010 elections.
“The president was never good at reaching across the aisle. So when the composition of Congress changed relative to what it was in his first two years, he wasn’t able to accommodate that very well,” said Andrew Busch, a presidential scholar at Claremont McKenna College in California. “He never accustomed himself to operating in a system where he was not the sole player.”
It’s all the more stunning for Mr. Obama having emerged from the legislature himself, having served first in the Illinois Statehouse and then in the U.S. Senate, where he spent two years in a Republican-controlled Congress and two years in a Democrat-run Congress.
He was the first president since John F. Kennedy to make the leap directly from Capitol Hill to the White House, but he took a mostly hands-off approach, leaving his former colleagues on their own to hash out the details of bills.