House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday sketched out an agenda for the new, all-Republican Congress, promising approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and changes in the health care law while issuing a warning to President Barack Obama on immigration.
In his first postelection news conference, Boehner cautioned Obama not to act unilaterally to change the immigration system, saying it would poison the well in terms of trying to pass legislation over the next two years on the issue.
“When you play with matches, you run the risk of burning yourself, and he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path,” Boehner told reporters.
The president on Wednesday reiterated his vow to act unilaterally before year’s end to reduce the number of deportations and grant work permits to millions of immigrants illegally in the United States.
“What I’m not going to do is just wait,” Obama said as bipartisan, comprehensive immigration legislation that the Senate passed in June 2013 remained stalled in the House.
The Republicans’ resounding victory in Tuesday’s midterm elections — the GOP regained control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House — gives them an opportunity to push legislation that’s been bottled up in the Democratic Senate.
Boehner, working in tandem with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the next majority leader, said Congress would act on some 40 jobs bills that have bipartisan support as well as on approving the Keystone pipeline. The Ohio Republican said that finding common ground with the administration will be hard work, but it will be even harder if Obama is unwilling to work with the GOP.
He highlighted Obama’s comments Wednesday at the president’s White House news conference and said they were not helpful.
“We heard him say he’s going to double-down on his go-it-alone approach,” Boehner said.
Republicans have said that they have to show they can govern in the next two years.
“We now have the votes and we have the ability to call the agenda, so stop name-calling and let’s actually produce some legislation that helps jobs and the economy and moves our country forward,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said in an interview. “I think the country has figured that out, and they’ve given us the mandate to do it, and we better produce, or they’ll kick us out too.”
Republicans are counting on a swift vote early next year on building the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast now that Republicans clearly have the numbers in the Senate. The GOP could have as many as 54 Senate seats if Republican Dan Sullivan prevails in Alaska and the party wins a Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana. The House majority could reach historic levels of 250 out of 435 seats.
“It’s in our best interest to show we can function and that we can lead responsibly, and that would involve getting bills that have already passed the House with bipartisan support and get Democrats to join us in the Senate and get those to the president, even something like trade,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
McConnell signaled Wednesday that he could work with Obama on trade agreements and a tax overhaul as both sides look toward governing rather than gridlock.
It won’t be easy. Many of the moderate Democrats who would be willing to compromise were defeated in Tuesday’s elections, reducing the number of lawmakers in the middle. In the next Congress, independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and moderate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana will hold considerable leverage.
Republicans will be under pressure from many in their ranks and from outside conservatives to scrap the health care law, but McConnell and the more pragmatic GOP lawmakers acknowledge that is next to impossible because of Obama’s veto power.
“If I had the ability, obviously, I’d get rid of it,” McConnell said of the Affordable Care Act as he spoke to reporters at a news conference in Kentucky. “Obviously, it’s also true he’s still there.”
McConnell indicated the GOP would push for a repeal of the tax on medical devices, which has some Democratic support, and target the requirement that individuals sign up for health insurance or face a penalty.
Obama, who has called Boehner, McConnell and a number of incoming senators, told reporters that ending the individual mandate was a nonstarter, calling it a “line I can’t cross” because it would unravel the law.
In Arizona on Thursday, Republican Sen. John McCain said Obama should not act unilaterally on immigration. He also argued that the president has no mandate for many of his policies.
“As the president said before the election, this election was a referendum on his policies. He’s the one that said it. He was right. His policies have been resoundingly rejected,” McCain said.
Several Republicans hold the deep-seated view that Obama already has been abusing his constitutional authority. “He doesn’t get the line-item veto to unilaterally change different tenets of the law after he signs the law,” Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said of Obama’s moves to delay provisions of the health care law.
On energy, McConnell was already exploring ways to derail Obama’s plans to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming from coal-fired power plants, a maneuver that some Democrats from coal states are likely to support but that the president would likely veto.
Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello, Erica Werner and Andrew Taylor in Washington and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.