The President and the States: Patterns of Contestation and Collaboration Under Obama

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Center for Constitutional Governance


Current accounts portray President Obama’s tenure as dominated by executive policymaking and vigorous challenges from the states. We argue that such accounts overlook how federal-state collaboration has been critical to achieving Obama Administration ends. Partisan polarization has gridlocked Congress and made the President dependent on the states to advance his central policy initiatives. As a result, these initiatives are both more responsive to state demands and more bipartisan than they might appear. After exploring tools by which the President works with the states, we discuss implications for federalism, the separation of powers, and partisan polarization. In particular, the state role in shaping federal regulation raises the possibility that states are both aggrandizing and checking presidential power.