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A Tale of Two President Obamas

It's a tale of two President Obamas.

As Obama starts gearing up for his re-election run, he's eager to try and reel in independent voters with some of the hope and change rhetoric that propelled him to victory back in 2008.

"I'm going to look for every opportunity to bridge the partisan divide and get things done," Obama told a whipped-up crowd in the battleground state of Ohio on Wednesday.

Less than a minute later, however, he changed his tone ever so slightly, to try and fire up his liberal base by ripping Republicans with a promise to take bold executive action on the economy.

"I'm not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people that we were elected to serve," Obama said to applause. "Not with so much at stake, not at this make-or-break moment for middle-class Americans. We're not going to let that happen."

The source of Obama's fire was the latest installment of his "We Can't Wait" campaign, using a so-called recess appointment to bypass Republicans and push through Richard Cordray as the first chief of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Day one on the job was Thursday for Cordray, who's straight out of central casting for the role of polite, bookish bureaucrat who says all the right things about how he wants to work with Republicans.

"I'm not someone who impugns people's motives, that's not my way, I don't think that's helpful," Cordray said in remarks at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. "I assume that people are always trying to do what they think is right. We may just disagree at times on what that is. So i'm going to work forward and build that relationship with Congress."

The Boy Scout exterior masks the bare knuckles way in which Obama installed Cordray to his post, as well as two Democrats and one Republican to the National Labor Relations Board.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich charged Thursday that Obama is an "imperial president" while Congressional Republicans claimed the moves were a naked power grab, even though GOP president have also used recess appointments to get their stalled nominees through.

The difference here, according to Republicans, is that the Senate was technically not in recess because the chamber was in what's known as a "pro forma" session doing very little business.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nevada) used the same maneuver in 2008 to prevent then-President George W. Bush from pushing through recess appointments at times when Congress was out of town. Bush did not challenge it, even though some former Bush officials have come forward this week to say presidents do have the Constitutional power to do recess appointments even when there's a pro forma session.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Thursday called the use of pro forma sessions a "gimmick," even though Reid used them a short time ago.

"We're saying that this is a gimmick versus a Constitutionally-enshrined authority," said Carney. "And we feel very comfortable, as a legal matter, that the Constitution trumps gimmicks."

Carney also lampooned Republicans for claiming the Senate is actually in session right now, jabbing lawmakers for being in "warm places" raising campaign cash instead of being in Washington doing their work.

Left unmentioned was the fact that Obama recently returned from the warm climate of Hawaii -- or that the Senate was in a pro forma session recently to pass the president's much-celebrated payroll tax cut extension, which the White House hardly believes was a gimmick.

Nevertheless, White House aides clearly make no apologies for ruffling Republican feathers with the executive action. The criticism only highlights Obama's efforts to show that he and Cordray are "warriors for the middle class" and standing up for consumers.

In fact, Carney even seemed to take some pity on Republicans for complaining that the president ran roughshod over them this week, as if Obama had never called for "hope and change" to the tone in Washington during the last campaign.

“I don’t think that anybody expected or expects Washington to be a campfire where everybody holds hands together and sings ‘Kumbaya,’” said Carney.