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Will new Congress intensify partisan strife?

With barely a week to go before another government shutdown could be upon us, the Republican leaders in Congress vow it won't happen this time. They have been huddling over ways to avert it, while other congressional Republicans plot other ways to continue their effort to undermine the presidency of Barack Obama in the little time he has left.

House Speaker John Boehner is entertaining a notion to send a "symbolic message" in the form of a resolution by Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida denying that the president has the power to reform immigration policy through executive action. At the same time, others weigh short-term financing of related agencies to clog the pipeline.

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Mr. Yoho commented that Mr. Obama "talks about how he has a pen and a phone" to work his will on the recalcitrant Congress, but his scheme "will take the ink out of the pen." It's a cute line, but it won't stop a presidential veto.

More moderate Republicans like Rep. Peter King of New York, after a meeting of the House Republican Caucus, told the New York Times that a solid majority backed Mr. Boehner and "No one spoke in favor of a shutdown."

The jockeying at the end of 2014 is a preview of what is to come next year when the Republicans take over the Senate as well. Mr. Boehner must continue to wrestle to keep the House majority marching in step, as the tea party coalition and newer members seem determined to take a tougher stand against any Obama initiatives.

The older Republican members recall too well the damage to the party brand done by the 16-day shutdown last year, as well as the foolhardy bluff-calling of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in his late 1995 confrontation with President Bill Clinton. It subsequently was an element in Mr. Gingrich's own departure from Congress.

Although Mr. Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have voiced post-election hopes and intentions to work with Mr. Obama when they soon hold majorities in both houses, it is already clear that they are determined to exact a price for any pivot to compromise with him.

The degree to which personal as well as policy animosities have marked the Republican relationships with this president, and have grown the longer he has been in office, has been remarkable. Although talk of impeachment has been heard most conspicuously and vehemently from the party's far right and dismissed by cooler heads in the ranks, disfavor with Mr. Obama voiced in hateful terms is notable and increasing.

It's understandable that the series of administrative failures of the Obama administration, born of the early mismanagement of the health-care insurance rollout, the VA and IRS, has brought allegations inexperience and incompetence down on the president.

But with Mr. Obama's charisma and oratory skills seeming to lose their charm for many, the depth and public expressions of dislike and even hatred have become more prevalent as well.

The continuing outbreaks of street protest in Ferguson, Mo., where a grand jury declined to indict a white policeman who shot and killed an unarmed black man, have led some to criticize America's first black president for insufficient engagement and for failing to visit the violence-stricken community.

Politically, race was an important (arguably the dominant) factor in how Americans voted for president in both 2008 and 2012. African-Americans voted overwhelmingly to re-elect Mr. Obama, while a solid majority of whites voted for his Republican challenger.

If race is becoming the dominant political factor, such a consequence would be a sorry commentary on what was a major milestone in the history of American politics, and would be a dismal outcome to what was so rightly greeted in 2008 as the nation coming of age in race relations.

In this regard, the country will be better served in Mr. Obama's final two years in office by an outbreak of mutual civility between Americans of all races and parties, not only in places like Ferguson but in the halls of Congress as well.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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