- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reluctantly assessing his massive defeat in the midterm elections, President Obama said Wednesday that he understands angry voters want him to work with a new Republican majority, but he promptly urged action on many of his same priorities that resulted in stalemate in Congress.

At a White House press conference on the day after Republicans seized control of the Senate and beefed up their House majority, Mr. Obama said he would renew his push for an increase in the federal minimum wage and forge ahead with his plan to unilaterally grant legal status to illegal immigrants.

Minutes earlier, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who will be in the majority come January, said he sees opportunities to cooperate on tax reform but Republicans will try to repeal unpopular parts of Obamacare and push Mr. Obama to submit free trade agreements to Congress. He said this was an issue that divided Democrats.

Mr. McConnell also said that if Mr. Obama pursues immigration action on his own in the next month, it will be “like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”

That could sour the looming lame-duck session of Congress, when Mr. Obama will need to work with lawmakers to keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year, to confirm the next attorney general and to decide whether to extend dozens of expired business tax breaks. Many conservatives say the tax breaks should be left for dead.

Of the voters’ coast-to-coast repudiation of Democrats, Mr. Obama said, “I don’t want to try to read the tea leaves on election results.” He said the stunning loss “doesn’t make me mopey.”

SEE ALSO: Obama trumpets the ‘good news’ Senate and House are controlled by GOP

The president telephoned Mr. McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio on Wednesday to congratulate them on the Republican landslide.

“Obviously, Republicans had a good night,” he said grudgingly, while avoiding terms such as “shellacking” that he used to describe the GOP gains in the 2010 midterm elections.

Mr. Obama, who has vetoed only two minor bills since 2009, forecast some testier battles with congressional Republicans.

Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign,” the president said. “I’ll take some actions that some in Congress will not like.”

In what sometimes sounded like a jest, the president said he is prepared to work with the Republican leaders and called their expanded power “good news.”

“I’m going to try different things, whether it’s having a drink with Mitch McConnell or letting John Boehner beat me again at golf,” the president said with a laugh.

But he added, “The principles that we’re fighting for, the things that motivate me every single day and motivate my staff every day, those things aren’t going to change. There’s going to be a consistent focus on how we deliver more opportunity to more people in this country.”

Mr. Obama also gave indications that he doesn’t fully accept the election results. He spoke several times of how much the economy has improved since he took office and his regret that not enough Americans feel secure financially.

“There are still a lot of folks out there who are anxious and are hurting and are having trouble making ends meet, or are worried about their children’s future,” he said. “And it’s my job to give them some confidence that this town can work to respond to some of those worries that folks have. And we haven’t done a good enough job convincing of that.”

The president listed three issues on which he wants to work with Congress immediately in the lame-duck session: a funding request to fight the Ebola outbreak, a new authorization for military force against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, and a budget to complete the fiscal year.

At the top of the agenda is a bill to fund the federal government past Dec. 11. Mr. Obama said he expects leaders on Capitol Hill to adopt a spending bill quickly and without partisan bickering.

“I hope they’ll do it in the same bipartisan, drama-free way they did earlier this year,” the president said.

Lawmakers also will have to address the child care tax credit and other tax breaks set to expire at the end of the year, offering the potential for early compromise between the two parties as Congress heads toward full Republican control in January.

Republican leaders weren’t ready to discuss details of a lame-duck agenda, although they expressed willingness to take up the Ebola measure soon.

“There are a number of issues that have to be resolved by the end of the year. The members will make decisions on how they will do so after they return next week,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

As for the funding bill, Republicans may hold a good deal of power.

By passing a longer-term deal soon, analysts say, Democrats could avoid giving Republicans full control over government funding once they lead both chambers of Congress.

“Their best leverage during the lame-duck session is saying Democrats will get a better deal in December than they will in January. That puts pressure on Democrats to negotiate,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

Beyond budget negotiations, Mr. Obama could put forth a nominee to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. during the lame-duck session. A noncontroversial figure could act as something of a political olive branch to Republicans.

Environmental groups are pushing Mr. Obama to use executive authority on a host of issues and are urging him to reject the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

After assuming control of the Senate, Republicans are expected to pass legislation approving the project, forcing the president to sign or veto it.

Mr. Obama said Wednesday that he will wait for a judicial decision on whether the pipeline’s route through Nebraska is legal. Those comments seem to indicate that he won’t reject the pipeline during the lame-duck session.

Whether it’s in the lame-duck session or in the next Congress, environmentalists don’t want the slightest hint of compromise out of the White House. They say Mr. Obama should increase executive actions to counter Republicans.

“It is now up to President Obama to pursue aggressive executive action on our pressing environmental issues, including climate change and clean water protections,” said Erich Pica, president of the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “The election results change nothing, since Americans still care about smart climate policies and expect President Obama to champion them, and that means rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, strengthening EPA regulations and making real commitments to renewable energy.”

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