US President Barack Obama moved to seize the initiative from Republicans after his party’s midterm election losses, drawing a hard line on immigration, choosing a new attorney general and dispatching key aides to say he will not back down from his agenda.
Obama took that message to Republican leaders in a meeting on Friday, where he vowed to press forward with an executive order giving some undocumented immigrants a reprieve from deportation, even after House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner warned it would poison relations.
By the end of the day, Obama had also authorized a near doubling of US troops in Iraq and said he would nominate Loretta Lynch, a Brooklyn federal prosecutor, to be his next attorney general.
It was a series of rapid actions designed to show a White House on the move, undeterred by Tuesday’s elections, which gave Republicans a majority in the US Senate. The announcements sought to show the president was in command while shifting the conversation in Washington away from the Democrats’ election losses.
Obama is not done. He is to appear on national television in an interview today on CBS’s Face the Nation before he arrives in Asia for a week of meetings with foreign leaders.
While former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan all responded to midterm election losses with high-profile firings, Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said there would be no shake-up.
“I don’t see anything like that on the horizon,” McDonough said in an interview with Al Hunt on the Charlie Rose show, which airs on PBS and Bloomberg Television.
Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the president would not scale back his immigration plans, which may result in millions of people getting a reprieve from deportation.
Pfeiffer said Obama would also not shrink from using his unilateral authority to move his agenda ahead during his remaining two years in office.
“We’re going to do what we think is best for the country,” Pfeiffer told reporters and editors yesterday at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast in Washington. “If they have disagreements about the things we do, they have the capacity to legislate.”
Republicans have a shot at avoiding an executive action by passing immigration legislation before the end of the year in a lame-duck session, Pfeiffer said.
If Congress passes a comprehensive immigration law the president is willing to sign, Obama would tear up his unilateral orders, he said.
The president would seek to find areas of agreement with congressional Republicans, Pfeiffer said. Some potential issues he cited are infrastructure, funding for Ebola prevention, financing government operations and writing a new authorization for the US to use military force against Islamic State militants.
If progress can be made on these issues during the lame-duck congressional session that starts next week, “that will send a signal to the country that we can begin working together in a more constructive way than we have in recent years and hopefully build some foundations of trust to do the tougher stuff next year,” Pfeiffer said.
The administration considers business taxation to be a potential arena for compromise with Republicans, Pfeiffer said.
Even so, he said, negotiating a tax deal would be “very hard,” describing brokering the differences within and between the two parties as something like “riding a unicycle while juggling swords.”
The administration has emphasized a revamp of the business tax system in an attempt to set aside more politically contentious issues over individual taxation.
That approach is not popular on Capitol Hill. Republicans say both issues should be addressed together, because many businesses pay taxes through their owners’ individual tax returns.
Many Democrats do not agree with the administration.
The top tax aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Representative Sander Levin all said at a Bloomberg BNA/KPMG panel on Thursday that they prefer doing individual and corporate taxes together, in part because major tax-code changes that do not offer a benefit to individuals can be hard to sell to the public.
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