US President Barack Obama pledged on Wednesday to work with Republican lawmakers after their midterm election win, but said he would act without them to protect his core agenda, starting with immigration reform.
The US leader stopped short of accepting direct responsibility for his Democratic Party’s colossal defeat at the hands of opponents who successfully turned the election into a repudiation of his policies.
The GOP snatched control of the US Senate, tightened its grip on the House of Representatives and won key Democrat governorships, in an election Obama admitted was “a good night” for Republicans.
“To everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you,” Obama said.
Congress’s two top Republicans said the new legislature would focus on jobs and the economy, and move to repeal Obama’s signature achievement — the healthcare bill known as Obamacare, which provides medical insurance for millions who lack it.
“We’ll also consider legislation to help protect and expand America’s emerging energy boom and to support innovative charter schools around the country,” US House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell wrote in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Democrats suffering from the whiplash of their overwhelming defeat were left to contemplate what went wrong.
Some Republicans nevertheless acknowledged they need to find avenues of cooperation with Obama so they are seen as capable congressional stewards ahead of the 2016 presidential race.
In a lengthy White House news conference, Obama insisted that he was “eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible.”
Both sides have pointed to the passage of tax reform and approval of two stalled international trade agreements as potential areas of cooperation between the camps.
Obama said he would also ask the new Congress for help in battling the spread of Ebola in west Africa and beyond, and to endorse US-led military action against jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
However, in the absence of a strong legislative base for the remaining two years of his presidency, Obama said he would press ahead with plans on immigration reform.
He said he would take executive action this year, without waiting to see whether the new Congress makes progress toward a comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill.
“My executive actions not only do not prevent them from passing a law that supersedes those actions, but should be a spur for them to actually try to get something done,” Obama said.
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