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Obama Immigration Vow Clashes With McConnell's in Goodwill Test

Thursday, 06 Nov 2014 05:52 AM

(For more U.S. election news, see ELECT.)

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell promised Americans yesterday they’d search for common ground, then fired the opening salvos of a new battle over immigration.

The usually serious McConnell laughed, cracked smiles and joked as he met with reporters in Louisville, Kentucky, relating an invitation Obama sent for lunch at the White House and pledging an end to partisan gridlock. Yet he said Obama’s plans to take executive action on immigration, if Congress doesn’t act, would amount to “waving a red flag in front of a bull”

Though the Nov. 4 election results shifted control of the Senate from Democrats to Republicans, it did little to change the underlying balance of power in Washington’s divided government, in which each party essentially has had veto power over any major undertaking for four years now.

McConnell joined with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, to outline an agenda that includes items sure to lead to confrontations with Obama. The two lawmakers wrote an opinion article on the Wall Street Journal’s website last night saying they’d work to repeal Obama’s health-care law and revive measures on jobs and the economy that weren’t approved by the Senate under the Democrats’ control.

‘Not Mopey’

A subdued Obama said at a White House news conference yesterday that he is “not mopey” about the Republican sweep in the midterm elections. He mused about sharing “a Kentucky bourbon” with the incoming majority leader and interpreted the vote as a mandate to “get stuff done.”

He then brushed aside McConnell’s warning on an immigration order, repeating a promise to take action by the end of the year to halt deportations for some undocumented immigrants if Congress doesn’t move on rewriting the law. “What I’m not going to do is just wait,” he said.

As for Republicans who might be “angered or frustrated,” he added, “those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form.”

Obama and McConnell offered words of conciliation without giving ground on their basic political positions. There were no signs of changes to come in party leadership when the next Congress is seated in January and the occupant of the White House remains the same. They are the same figures whose will to compromise has mostly been lacking in recent years.

Routine Clashes

McConnell, 72, and the president, 53, signaled some optimism for bipartisanship after four years in which Obama and his Republican adversaries clashed on almost every issue.

“There are going to be areas where we do agree, on infrastructure, on making sure that we’re boosting American exports,” Obama said at the White House. “And part of my task then is to reach out to Republicans, make sure that I’m listening to them.”

McConnell in his news conference promised “no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt,” referring to the brinkmanship over the budget that marked last year. He said he and Obama spoke about working on areas where they can agree, citing international trade and tax-code revisions.

“I said, ‘Send us trade agreements,’” the senator said. “We’ll see whether we can work with the president. We hope so.”

Pipeline Approval

The agenda described by McConnell and Boehner includes approval of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline from Canada and addressing “the insanely complex tax code that is driving American jobs overseas.” They described Obamacare as “hopelessly flawed” and said they wanted to deal with an educational system that “denies choice to parents,” along with “excessive regulations and frivolous lawsuits.”

“We will honor the voters’ trust by focusing, first, on jobs and the economy,” they wrote. “Among other things, that means a renewed effort to debate and vote on the many bills that passed the Republican-led House in recent years with bipartisan support, but were never even brought to a vote by the Democratic Senate majority.”

On areas where Republicans and Obama disagree, McConnell said the Senate will use its power over federal spending to reduce government regulation and that it will use “a variety of different ways” to try to cut back parts of Obama’s health-care law.

The Senate Banking Committee also will consider revisions in the Dodd-Frank law enacted after the 2008 financial crisis, which McConnell termed “Obamacare for banks.”

Obama Meeting

The president has invited congressional leaders from both parties to a White House meeting tomorrow, in part to discuss items he wants to finish before the new Congress takes office in January. Among them is $6.2 billion in funds to stem the spread of Ebola and an authorization for using military force against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Trade may be the most promising area for agreement. Obama wants authority to negotiate agreements, including the proposed 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, and get up-or-down votes in Congress, without amendments. The issue divides Democrats, who are reluctant to give up power to modify accords that might disadvantage some U.S. workers.

The Pacific deal will be part of Obama’s discussions with Asian leaders next week at summits in China, Myanmar and Australia. Companies such as Oracle Corp., Kraft Foods Group Inc. and Dow Chemical Co. are part of a group pushing for the pact, which is still being negotiated.

Tax Deal

The path to an accord on taxes is tougher because lawmakers and the administration disagree on the basic parameters, even before they get to the details of which tax breaks to keep.

Obama wants to focus on the business tax code, reducing the corporate rate and using one-time revenue to pay for spending on infrastructure. He wants to increase taxes on high-income individuals.

Republicans have focused on tying individual and business- tax changes together and oppose using a revamp of the tax code to raise revenue.

On other issues, including energy policy and the minimum wage, the gap between the parties is wide.

McConnell said the Senate will take up approval of the Keystone XL pipeline as part of a broader debate on policy that will “embrace the energy revolution” in the U.S.

Obama said an independent review by the administration, not congressional action, will guide the process. He reiterated that the central question for him is whether the project will cause a net increase in carbon emissions.

“I’m just going to gather up the facts,” he said.

Productive Relationship

While McConnell and Obama said they realize there will be confrontations, Obama said he and McConnell can have a productive relationship.

“He has always been very straightforward with me,” Obama said. “To his credit, he has never made a promise that he couldn’t deliver.”

McConnell called Obama the key figure in any potential bipartisan deals because of his ability to veto legislation and to persuade Democratic lawmakers to back him.

“There’s only one Democrat who counts -- the president,” McConnell said. “He’s a player. That’s the way our system works.”

--With assistance from Roger Runningen, Angela Greiling Keane and Phil Mattingly in Washington.

To contact the reporters on this story: Richard Rubin in Washington at rrubin12@bloomberg.net; Kathleen Hunter in Louisville, Kentucky at khunter9@bloomberg.net; Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net Joe Sobczyk, Justin Blum

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

   
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