Obama and Mitch McConnell, who will become majority leader when
Republicans take charge in the Senate in January, signaled they
hoped to get past a previously frosty relationship to pass
legislation on priorities on which they can both agree.
Republicans swept elections on Tuesday, capturing their biggest
majority in the House of Representatives in more than 60 years and
gaining a majority in the Senate for the first time since 2006. The
election result limits what Obama can achieve without bipartisan
support during his final two years in office.
"As president, I have a unique responsibility to try and make this
town work," Obama, a Democrat, said at a White House news
conference. "So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I
Obama lauded McConnell, with whom he said he hoped to share some
Kentucky bourbon, and House Speaker John Boehner for expressing the
wish to seek common ground after the elections. He spoke to both men
earlier in the day.
McConnell said he believed Obama was interested in moving forward on
trade agreements and tax reform, two issues at a standstill in
Washington because of political differences.
"This gridlock and dysfunction can be ended. It can be ended by
having a Senate that actually works," McConnell told reporters in
his home state Kentucky.
But the words of reconciliation only went so far.
Obama said he intended to go ahead with plans to implement executive
actions by the end of this year that could remove the threat of
deportation from millions of undocumented immigrants.
McConnell said it would be like "waving a red flag in front of a
bull" for Obama to take unilateral action on immigration. The
Democrat-controlled Senate passed a bill on the issue last year but
House Republicans did not support it.
"We're going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I
believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system,"
Obama said. "If they want to get a bill done ... I'm eager to see
what they have to offer. But what I’m not going to do is just wait."
Obama conceded that Republicans "had a good night" on Tuesday but
shied away from more descriptive language of the sort he used in
2010, when he described Republican victories as a "shellacking."
The president, whose unpopularity made him unwelcome to many
Democrats running for office, plans to meet congressional leaders
from both parties at the White House on Friday to take stock of the
new political landscape.
ENERGY, KEYSTONE, TAXES
Despite the Republican gains, the election was not necessarily an
endorsement of Republican policies. Initiatives championed by
Democrats to raise the minimum wage and legalize possession of small
amounts of marijuana succeeded in a handful of states where they
were on the ballot.
[to top of second column]
With the bulk of election results in, the dollar surged to a
seven-year high against the yen and the Dow and S&P 500 finished at
record closing highs, reflecting optimism about pro-energy and other
Obama said he would like to work with Republicans on a deal to pay
for repairs to roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure. He
said a tax reform package might be one way of paying for the
The new power structure will test Obama's ability to compromise with
newly empowered political opponents who have been resisting his
legislative agenda since he was first elected in 2008. Americans
elected him to a second and final four-year term in 2012.
One of the first tests could be a bill to approve the Keystone XL
crude oil pipeline from Canada, a project about which Obama has
voiced reservations. Republican Senator John Hoeven said in an
interview on Wednesday that he has enough votes to pass a bill early
in 2015 that would approve TransCanada's long-languishing $8 billion
Obama said at the news conference he would let the State
Department-run process on Keystone play out, but said his criteria
for approving it or not would be based on whether it helped
Americans' pocket books.
"Is it going to actually create jobs? Is it actually going to reduce
gas prices that have been coming down? And is it going to be, on
net, something that doesn’t increase climate change that we’re going
to have to grapple with?" he said.
Energy markets hope Republican control of the Senate will lead to
reform of crude and natural gas export laws and motivate the Obama
administration to include those energy exports in new, or broader,
(The story was refiled to clarify that Obama's comments discussing
tax reform measures are in paragraph 16)
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Steve
Bittenbender in Louisville, Kentucky; Editing by Howard Goller)
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