A day after voters rejected Democrats in midterm elections, President Obama acknowledged Wednesday that Republicans “had a good night.” But the president was unbowed in his policies, pledging to forge ahead on immigration reform if Congress won’t act and drawing red lines around the Affordable Care Act.
But the president did reach across the aisle to Republicans, who took control of Congress Tuesday. He offered to have a drink with Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who secured re-election Tuesday and is likely to become majority leader, and said he would let House Speaker John Boehner “beat me again at golf.”
But Obama also reiterated his pledge to take executive action on immigration reform by the end of the year – a political flash point for many Republicans who have accused the president of wanting to grant amnesty to people living in the country illegally. “We’re going to take whatever lawful actions we can take that I believe will improve the functions of our immigration system,” Obama said. McConnell said at a press conference earlier Wednesday that it would be a “big mistake” for Obama to act alone, setting up immigration as a political flash point, with many republicans accusing the president of wanting to grant amnesty to people living in the country illegally.
The president deflected numerous questions from White House reporters about whether the setbacks Democrats suffered Tuesday would trigger changes in his policies, his negotiating tactics or his leadership team.
Obama, who is heading to Asia next week before the lame-duck Congress returns from recess on Nov. 12, said there were three things he wanted Congress to move quickly on. He called for funding for doctors and the military to fight Ebola; authorization for more military force to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; and he called upon the Congress to pass a budget in a “bipartisan, drama-free way.”
The president said he believes Congress should provide new authorization for the U.S. to go after Islamic militants. The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which was put into place after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, needs to be updated to address the “different type of enemy” the U.S. is currently going after, Obama said.
Obama also gave an update on nuclear negations with Iran, saying U.S. officials will know within the next three to four weeks whether a deal can be secured to halt the country’s nuclear program.
Republicans picked up at least seven Senate seats Tuesday, one more than the party needed to take control of the upper chamber of Congress. The GOP’s gains have fueled speculation that Republicans would renew their quest to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the president’s signature legislative agreement. Senate Republican leader Mitch Mcconnell at an earlier news conference Wednesday stopped short of endorsing a full repeal of the law, but said some aspects of the law would come under review in the new Republican Senate, including the so-called “individual mandate” requiring every American to obtain coverage.
Obama said at the White House that getting rid of the individual mandate “is a line I can’t cross.” Without the individual mandate, Obama said, consumers might be tempted to “game the system” and buy insurance only when ill – which would cause the system to collapse.
With another period of open enrollment set for later in the month, the president vowed that healthcare.gov would work “super well” – a nod to last year’s disastrous rollout of the federal health exchange.
“The American people should be very concerned that their president didn’t get the message of yesterday’s election,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement after the president’s press conference. “I hope that’s not the case, but today, in word and tone he refused to take responsibility or even express humility. He seemed to suggest the only ideas he’s willing to listen to are his own, old, failed ones.”