Basking in the glow of the GOP’s tidal wave election victory last week, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had raised the possibility that Republicans and President Obama could strike a series of compromises. He vowed that on his watch, there would not be another government shutdown or a threatened default on the U.S. debt.
By Thursday afternoon, McConnell was having second thoughts: “I had maybe naively hoped the president would look at the results of the election and decide to come to the political center and do some business with us,” he said. “I still hope he does at some point. But the early signs are not good.”
With virtually no signs that he was chastened by the Democratic debacle in last week’s elections that gave the GOP control of the Senate, Obama has been rolling out pronouncements and threatened executive orders that have put the Republicans on high alert – and could potentially lead to a high-stakes test of wills over some of the toughest issues of the day:
- The New York Times and other news outlets reported yesterday that Obama will announce as early as next week a new executive order that would overhaul the troubled immigration system – relieving as many as five million illegal immigrants of the threat of deportation.
- Obama signed off on a new carbon emissions treaty with the president of China during his Asian trip this week that would cut U.S. levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent below 2015 levels by 2025, but could also threaten jobs and coal producers, in particular.
- The president issued a statement seeking to pressure the Federal Communications Commission to adopt the strictest rules possible to prevent major broadband companies from blocking or intentionally slowing down legal content – so-called “net neutrality.”
Congressional Republicans who have been sharply divided for years over what, if anything, to do about additional border security and the status of six million illegal immigrants responded with rage this week to news that Obama will resort to executive order before the new GOP-controlled Congress has a chance to act.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters on Thursday that Republicans would fight the president “tooth and nail,” and that “this is the wrong way to govern… If he wants to go off on his own, there are things he’s just not going to get.”
McConnell, for his part, also said Thursday – just hours after Senate Republicans elected him the next Senate Majority Leader, “I’ve been very disturbed about the way the president has proceeded in the wake of the election – whether it was his intervention on net neutrality, his apparent decision to move ahead on immigration with executive orders, [and] the rather ridiculous agreement with the Chinese under which they basically have to do nothing for the next 16 years while we’re losing jobs in this country as the result of the EPA’s over regulation.”
Undaunted by GOP threats of retribution for his continued go-it-alone policymaking, Obama said today during a news conference in Myanmar that he wouldn’t back down. Appearing with prominent opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Obama was adamant that reforms are “way overdue,” according to ABC News.
“I gave the House over a year to go ahead and at least give a vote to the Senate bill. They failed to do so and I indicated to Speaker Boehner several months ago that if, in fact, Congress failed to act, I would use all the lawful authority that I possess to try to make the system work better, and that's going to happen,” said Obama.
While both McConnell and Boehner have sought to project unanimity of purpose as they begin planning for the remainder of the lame duck session and then the new 114th Congress that begins in January, there already appears to be sharp division among Republicans over how to respond to Obama’s all-but-certain immigration reform executive order.
The Washington Post said today that congressional Republicans “have split into competing factions over how to respond.” Some – including the GOP leadership – favor using the party’s new hold on Congress to incrementally contest changes to the policy, while others, including conservatives, favor threatening another government shutdown unless Obama backs down.
Congress has until early next month to pass major spending legislation to keep the government operating through next September 30. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other Tea Party conservatives are agitating to add prohibitions on the enforcement of Obama’s executive order to the omnibus spending measure and challenge the president to veto it.
The immigration executive order poses the first serious challenge to the new GOP leadership, and will require herculean efforts by McConnell and Boehner to keep their caucuses in line. “It’s a big test for the leadership,” Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican, told The Post. “At some point we have to fund the government, and we should not fight to attach some demand.”
Why This Matters
There was faint hope after the GOP’s victory in last week’s midterms that there might be room for compromise between the new congressional Republican leaders and President Obama. But now that seems unlikely: Obama is infuriating Senate Majority Leader-to-be Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner by going his own way on immigration reform, global warming, Internet regulations and energy projects that could set the stage for another fiscal crisis – or even a government shutdown.
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