President Obama held a lengthy, post-election press conference this afternoon, showing a surprisingly positive attitude, not just about the nation’s direction, but about the possibilities of the next two years. In the process, he made a little news about his expectations for the lame-duck session.
“First, I’m submitting a request to Congress to funding to ensure that our doctors, scientists and troops have the resources that they need to combat the spread of Ebola in Africa and to increase our preparedness for any future cases here at home.“Second, I’m going to begin engaging Congress over a new authorization to use military force against ISIL. The world needs to know we are united behind this effort and the men and women of our military deserve our clear and unified support.“Third, back in September, Congress passed short-term legislation to keep the government open and operating into December. That gives Congress five weeks to pass a budget for the rest of the fiscal year. And I hope that they’ll do it in the same bipartisan, drama-free way that they did earlier this year.”
The request for Ebola-related resources should lead to an interesting conversation on Capitol Hill. Republicans have spent the last several weeks suggesting the federal response to the virus threat has been inadequate, and this will be GOP lawmakers’ opportunity to put our money where their mouths are.
But the call for congressional authorization to use military force against Islamic State militants is quite new – the White House has argued for quite some time that an AUMF is unnecessary, and lawmakers in both parties have been willing to simply look the other way. Opening the door to a debate and a congressional resolution is no small development.
But as the Q&A unfolded, that’s not all we learned.
On immigration, for example, the president appears ready to move forward on executive actions, whether Republicans like it or not.
“[When Speaker Boehner] finally told me he wasn’t going to call [the bipartisan reform bill] up this year, what I indicated to him is I feel obliged to do everything I can lawfully with my executive authority to make sure that we don’t keep on making the system worse, but that whatever executive actions that I take will be replaced and supplanted by action by Congress. You send me a bill that I can sign, and those executive actions go away.“That’s a commitment I made not just to the American people and to businesses and evangelical community, law enforcement folks, and everybody who’s looked at this issue and thinks that we need immigration reform, that’s a commitment that I also made to John Boehner, that I would act in the absence of action by Congress.“So, before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take, that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system, that will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern.“And at the same time, I’ll be reaching out to both Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican as well as Democratic leaders to find out how it is that they want to proceed. And if they want to get a bill done, whether it’s during the lame duck or next year, I am eager to see what they have to offer.“But what I’m not going to do is just wait. I think it’s fair to say that I have shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible. And I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully though executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.”
Those who hoped the midterm results would scare Obama away from action are going to be disappointed.
I was also struck by the president’s comments in response to a question about his relationship with incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“You know, he has always been very straightforward with me. To his credit, he has never made a promise that he couldn’t deliver. And you know, he knows the legislative process well. He obviously knows his caucus well. You know, he’s always given me, I think, realistic assessments of what he can get through his caucus and what he can’t. And so, I think we can have a productive relationship.”
It was hard not to wonder whether Obama’s comments were his subtle way of pointing out John Boehner’s flaws as Speaker – someone who can’t deliver on promises, who doesn’t know the legislative process well, who often doesn’t seem to know his caucus well, and who has routinely made unrealistic assessments.
The press conference covered quite a bit of ground. If you missed it, the transcript is worth your time.