Since Tuesday’s election handed Republicans full control of Congress, both President Obama and the GOP have hit all the right notes about working together constructively. On Friday, that process begins.
Obama is scheduled to meet Friday afternoon with congressional leaders from both parties, the White House announced. The confab will give the president a chance to congratulate Mitch McConnell, who is now in line to be Senate majority leader, in person after having to leave a message for the Kentucky senator on election night. Also attending will be House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and other members of the Senate and House leadership from both parties.
Both Republican leaders and the White House have vowed cooperation during Obama's final two years in office. “If Republicans are wanting to work with us, there’s a lot we can get done,” White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said Thursday on msnbc’s “The Daily Rundown.” In his victory speech Tuesday, McConnell struck a similar tone. “Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict,” he told supporters.
Some policy areas are starting to emerge as potential areas of agreement. Both Obama and McConnell have named tax reform, trade deals and budget policy as potentially fertile ground. Other issues look set for confrontation. Obama has said he will use his executive authority to act on immigration if Congress doesn’t address the issue. A Senate bill to reform the immigration system has languished since it passed in June 2013. Boehner said Thursday that executive action on immigration would “poison the well.” And McConnell called it “waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
Then there’s Obamacare. In an op-ed Thursday in The Wall Street Journal, the two GOP leaders teamed up to renew their party’s push for repeal of the president’s signature health care law—a subject that Republican candidates mostly ignored on the campaign trail. Any effort by Congress to repeal or weaken Obamacare would be met with a presidential veto. During a press conference Wednesday that focused on the GOP's electoral success, Obama said repealing the health care law's individual mandate "is a line I can't cross."
Frosty personal relationships could also get in the way. McConnell and the president have never been close. At the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner last year, Obama offered a joking response to the criticism that he should reach out to Republicans more: “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” But in Wednesday's press conference, the president offered measured praise for the Kentuckian as a straight-shooter, if nothing else. He even said he would like to meet with McConnell over a glass of Kentucky bourbon.
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“He has always been very straightforward with me,” Obama said Wednesday. “To his credit, he has never made a promise that he couldn’t deliver.”
Some suggested the comments were a dig at Boehner, who has often appeared to make commitments to Obama that he was unable to line his members up behind, including passing immigration reform.