WASHINGTON – The day after a massive midterm defeat that gave the GOP control over both houses of Congress, President Obama struck a conciliatory tone, but the content of his news conference remarks was defiant as he promised to move ahead on his goals with, or without, the consent of Congress.
Obama repeatedly claimed a desire to work with Congress, but he also promised to take unilateral actions where he thought it important and to veto bills he did not like.
The president predicted, “Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign,” and that he and Republicans would continue to disagree on passionately held positions.
Obama never actually cited a policy on which he might be willing to compromise, while saying he would try to work with Republicans on funding measures to stop the spread of Ebola, hammering out a budget and getting new funding and congressional authorization for military forces to fight ISIS.
The president did not agree that the election served notice that he should change his policies and vowed to pursue his goals.
When asked if voters had repudiated his policies, which he had declared were on the ballot, Obama insisted he would not “try to read tea leaves” when it came to interpreting election results and would instead do what he thinks is best for the country.
He appeared to justify his intention to move forward with his agenda by noting, “I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody. They want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through the gridlock, and get stuff done. So the most important thing that I can do is just get stuff done.”
Obama seemed to claim voters merely had not understood his message, stating what he had said “didn’t penetrate,” and insisted, while he would see what he needs to do differently, the principles that guide him would not change.
A prime example was illustrated in his responses to reporters’ questions on immigration and potentially extending amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, where he again vowed to act without Congress if he felt it necessary, proclaiming, “What I will not do is just wait.”
Obama said he preferred to have Congress pass a bill on so-called comprehensive immigration reform, including a process to let immigrants “become legal,” but if that did not happen, he “felt obliged,” to act with what he called lawful executive authority.
A reporter noted soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had just warned the president that implementing an executive order would poison the atmosphere and be akin to waving a red flag in front of a bull.
The president stood his ground, stating that he had heard that argument for years but had yet to see legislation he could act upon. He then doubled-down on his pledge, reiterating, “Before the end of the year, I will take whatever lawful actions I can take.”
The president was also asked if voters had not just told him not to do so, but he didn’t respond to that. He also did not respond to a question about whether such executive action would scuttle the chances of working with Congress on other matters.
Instead, he took aim at conservatives in Congress, particularly those in the House, indicating they were to blame for not passing an immigration reform bill.
The president stated that undoubtedly “some” in the GOP will be angered by an executive action he may take, but “those are folks who are also opposed to any form of immigration reform,” and are responsible for blocking what he called the bipartisan reform bill passed in the Senate.
In his own news conference, staged an hour before Obama appeared, McConnell indicated a willingness to cooperate and compromise with the president, stating, “When the American people choose divided government, I don’t think it means they don’t want us to do anything.”
McConnell portrayed his main task in dealing with the president as looking for areas of agreement.
The man he will replace as Senate majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., struck a similar tone, saying, “The message from voters is clear: They want us to work together.”
But, as WND reported, Rush Limbaugh had a far different take on the message sent by voters, telling his radio audience on Wednesday, “The Republican Party was not elected to compromise.”
Going further, Limbaugh observed, “The Republican Party was not elected to sit down and work together with the Democrats. The Republican Party was not elected to slow down the speed the country is headed to the cliff and go over it slowly. The Republican Party was elected to stop before we get to the cliff.”
His assertion appeared to be reinforced by the fact that every newly elected GOP senator had campaigned on repealing, not fixing, Obamacare.
McConnell implied it was not possible to repeal and replace Obamacare, saying, “I’d get rid of it if I could.”
Instead, he proposed a piecemeal approach to fix parts of the deeply unpopular law, saying he would discuss how to move forward on incremental changes to Obamacare, such as repealing the medical device tax.
McConnell also criticized the individual mandate, saying “people hate it,” but Obama insisted in his news conference that he would not budge on eliminating that provision, portraying it as essential to the health-care law.
While preaching cooperation with the president where possible, McConnell did not strike a conciliatory tone with conservative members of his own party.
When asked how he could prevent his colleagues from “yanking you back from the middle,” McConnell replied the “vast majority” of them did not feel they were sent to Washington “to fight all the time,” and most would rather make “progress.”
He did say he was “hoping” the president would move toward the center.
When asked if he would use the controversial parliamentary procedure called reconciliation to effectively cut off funding for Obamacare, as he has intimated previously, McConnell replied he had to take care of this year’s business first.
As for using the budget as leverage to shut down Obamacare or reach other GOP goals, McConnell replied, “Let me make it clear: There will be no government shutdown and no default on the national debt.”
However, he did promise to use the power of the purse to stop the bureaucratic strangulation of the economy, citing only the “war on coal,” perhaps the biggest issue in his home state of Kentucky.
McConnell also promised to pursue compromise on trade agreements and reducing the corporate tax rate.
He promised to get the Senate “back to normal” so it could once again vote on bills. McConnell also vowed to make Congress work more, “including Fridays.”
With Republicans winning a majority in the Senate, the GOP will have control over both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2006.
The cause of the voters’ late shift toward the GOP appeared to be fueled by the declining popularity of President Obama, as evidenced in the polls.
The president’s approval rating began to nosedive at the start of last year and has been abysmal for months. Obama had fallen from a 69 percent approval rating when he took office in January 2009 to 38 percent in September. By the election, he was mired at 42 percent.
Even more indicting, WND reported how Obama had become so toxic to the Democrats’ Senate candidates, they weren’t just running away from him, they were running against him, and attacking the president in both debates and ads with stinging rebukes one would expect to hear coming from only Republicans.
However, while the big win was good news for Republicans, it may not bode well for conservatives in the House.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, will have a considerably larger House Republican caucus, meaning he could strike deals with the Obama administration while not needing the support of as many conservatives.
As WND reported, it was intense pressure from conservatives led by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., that caused Boehner to not only drop his own border bill for lack of support, but eventually pass a much stronger one in August.