WASHINGTON - The Obama administration says it's confident stricter gun laws can be passed, but it's hedging its optimism by stressing just how politically difficult it will be.
White House senior adviser David Plouffe listed gun legislation and immigration reform as two top domestic priorities as President Barack Obama readies for a second term.
He said the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has changed the gun debate and that a big spotlight will be on the issue in coming months. But he did not sound assured that some measures would even get a vote.
"I think there are 60 votes in the Senate, 218 votes in the House, if the process can just play itself out and we can really get votes on some of these things," Plouffe said on CNN. "But it's going to be hard work."
Republican Sen. John Barrasso said he doubted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would bring all of the administration's proposals regarding gun violence to the floor.
"He has six Democrats up for election in two years in states where the president received fewer than 42 percent of the votes," Barrasso said on CNN. "And he doesn't want his Democrats to have to choose between their own constituents and the president's positions."
Both men sounded more optimistic about the prospects for an immigration overhaul.
Plouffe said he believes there's broader support from Republicans nationally than there is from Republicans in Congress. Still, he said "the stars are aligned" for a bill to include beefing up border security as well as giving those already in the U.S. illegally a path to citizenship. He cited business organizations and religious leaders as key players backing a comprehensive immigration bill.
Barrasso said he would like to see more immigrants educated in the United States allowed to stay.
"We need to deal with immigration," he said. "And I think we will."
Plouffe made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows to outline the administration's agenda for a second term. He said the president's focus will be on improving the economy. Obama believes the best way to do that is to invest in education and manufacturing, while also seeking what he called "balanced deficit reduction."
Republicans agreed to let tax cuts expire this year for those workers whose incomes exceed $400,000 a year, but Plouffe said that future negotiations on reducing the deficit will have to include more tax revenue as well as spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs.
"We've dealt with the tax rate issue. Now it's about loopholes," Plouffe said on ABC. "And I think the country would be well-served by tax and entitlement reform, because it'll help our economy."
In leading up to Monday's inauguration, the White House has sought to leave the impression that the president will seek common ground with Republicans. It will also seek to undertake public campaigns to build pressure on Congress to act on the administration's legislative priorities.
The new mobilizing effort will be led by a tax-exempt group called Organizing for Action. The move represents the first time a sitting president has ever transformed his presidential campaign operation into an outside group with the express purpose of promoting his agenda. "We're also going to bring the American people more into the debate than we did in the first term."
Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager, is expected to join the group's board after he leaves the administration later this month.