WASHINGTON (CBS DC/AP) — President Barack Obama responded to Republicans’ newfound majorities in both chambers of Congress by saying he “looks forward” to finding any and all overlaps between the agenda of GOP leaders and his administration – but stopped short of saying he will alter plans for immigration reform, health care or minimum wage.
Obama’s conciliatory statements expressed that he has “no doubt the Republicans had a good night,” and his administration will immediately “reach out to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner who are now running both chambers to find out what their agenda is…the resounding message of the last several elections is to get stuff done.”
“The American people sent a message, one that they’ve sent for several elections now — they expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do. Still, as president, I have a unique responsibility to make this town work.”
Obama said the top three items on his agenda are to secure funding to combat the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, “new authorization for military force against ISIL,” and to ensure that government stays open beyond its current short-term funding through December.
Obama stood firm on his administration’s agenda, and noted that two-thirds of voters not participating in the elections showed people want Congress to finally go to work. Pointing to gains in the economy of the U.S. as a whole since he’s taken office, he noted that minimum wage – something he has pushed for throughout his second term – was passed in five-out-of-five states in which Republicans had victories.
The president said that student loan debt, climate change and early childhood education funding will not be “recalibrated” on his agenda moving forward.
Obama is standing by his pledge to act on his own to reduce deportations and improve border security by the end of the year, although he is urging Congress to act on its own to preempt any “lawful” executive actions on immigration. He said that House Speaker John Beohner and Sen. Mitch McConnell are willing to work for reform.
“I have consistently said that it is my profound preference to see Congress act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would streamline the legal immigration system and the borders…some have lived here for a very long time and have children that live here….to get through a process that allows them to get legal.”
Obama says if Congress acts, his executive actions will go away, although Republicans have said any action will poison relations with the White House.
“What I’m not going to do is just wait,” said Obama. “I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience trying to work on a bipartisan basis. In the meantime, let’s figure out what we can lawfully do to improve the immigration system.”
“If Republican leadership wants to see an immigration bill passed, they now have the capacity to pass it…and it’s a bill that I can sign, the sooner they do it, the better.”
Obama congratulated McConnell’s re-election to a sixth term in Kentucky, noting that he is open to sharing a drink with the expected Senate Majority Leader.
“I would enjoy having some Kentucky Bourbon with Mitch McConnell, though I’m not sure what his preferred drink is,” said Obama. “He’s always been very straightforward with me, he’s never made a promise he couldn’t deliver and he knows the legislative process well..He’s always given me realistic assessments of what he can get through his caucus and what he can’t.”
Obama says the world needs to know the United States is united behind the effort against the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He says U.S. military members deserve their government’s clear support against ISIS.
Previously, the White House has cited Congress’ 2001 authorization to wage war on terrorists responsible for 9/11 as legal grounds for its airstrikes against IS in Syria. The Obama administration has also cited the invitation from Iraq’s leader for the U.S. to strike IS targets there.
Passing a new authorization would mark a new chapter for U.S. military engagement in the Middle East. He added that it is “too early to say whether we are ‘winning’,” in what is “going to be a long-term plan to solidify the Iraqi government, to solidify their security forces.”
Obama’s optimistic message reiterated that he’s willing to find any common ground in Congress regardless of wide partisan divides.
“A focus on the American people must take precedent over Congress’ own image,” said Obama. “I just want to see what works.”
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