"His intent isn't to cause fracases in the Republican Party," she added, saying that the focus is on policy. "The way he looks at it is, these are causes that can actually bring our country together."
Republicans disagree, of course, and say Obama's approach guarantees nothing will get done.
"The president is really good at campaigning and really bad at governing," said Republican strategist Whit Ayres. "Anything that's going to get through this Congress is going to have to be done in a bipartisan way," he said, but Obama has shown "no inclination or ability" to accomplish that.
"This White House hasn't seemed to have figured out that the election is over, and the time for governing has come," he added.
Whichever view is right, the legislative clock runs quickly for second-term presidents.
Next year, members of Congress will begin to focus on the 2014 midterm election. After that, the 2016 presidential contest will rapidly take shape. Even if he avoids the kinds of scandals or blunders that hindered the second terms of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, history suggests Obama has a relatively short period to collect legislative victories.
"In second terms the window of opportunity is pretty narrow, maybe 18 months," said University of Texas professor H.W. Brands, one of a group of historians who have met several times with Obama for off-the-record dinners to discuss the presidency. "After that, they are really lame ducks."
Obama and his aides dismiss the idea that a softer approach to the opposing party would lead to a better result.
Members of Congress chiefly vote based on their political self-interest, not personal relationships, Obama said at a recent news conference. "The reason that, you know, in many cases, Congress votes the way they do, or talks the way they talk, or takes positions and negotiations that they take -- it doesn't have to do with me, it has to do with the imperatives that they feel in terms of their own politics," he said.
Many outside experts agree. The biggest fear for many lawmakers is the risk of being challenged in a primary election if they cooperate with the other side, said Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at Emory University, who has extensively studied the country's rising political partisanship.
The just-completed 112th Congress had the most polarization between parties of any since the 1880s, according to data analyzed by University of Georgia political scientist Keith T. Poole. To convince members to break party discipline in such a divided body, the president has to provide significant counter-pressure.White House aides "see that they have the advantage" with public opinion on guns, taxes and other major issues Obama has tackled, Abramowitz said, and "that plays into this more confrontational approach."