Huddling with House and Senate leaders for the first time this year, President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to stake out areas of compromise, including on the issues of cybersecurity, trade and tax reform. (Jan. 13)
WASHINGTON — Defiant congressional Republicans attacked President Barack Obama's agenda from all sides Tuesday, ignoring veto threats and pushing bills to uproot his policies on immigration and Wall Street, force approval of energy pipeline legislation he opposes and make him justify any new federal rules before he makes them.
Obama invited his antagonists to the White House for their first face-to-face meeting since the new Republican-controlled Congress convened. But their show of cordiality for the cameras did little to mask the partisan hostilities between Capitol Hill and the White House.
"The key now is for us to work as a team," said Obama, who has issued five veto threats with the new Congress not yet two weeks old. He cited taxes, trade and cybersecurity as areas for potential cooperation, and also told lawmakers he would work with them to come up with a proposal to authorize military force against the Islamic State group.
Back at the Capitol, the Senate debated legislation to force the administration to allow construction of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline. And the House passed a regulatory reform bill that the White House says would impose "unprecedented and unnecessary" requirements on agencies trying to write rules. It would require more justifications and notice.
That was to be followed by votes Wednesday on two other bills: One would alter a key section of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul in a way that would help banks, and the other would block Obama's executive actions on immigration, including removal of protections for immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children. The Keystone bill passed the House last week and is expected to clear the Senate next week and head to Obama's desk.
Obama has threatened to veto all four pieces of legislation. Far from cowed, with the Senate in GOP hands for the first time in eight years Republican lawmakers are ready to make him do it.
"I'm a member of Congress; I'm not a potted plant. I don't take my orders from the White House," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., after Republicans met behind closed doors to discuss their strategy. "There's a new sheriff in the Senate, and so he's not going to have a compliant majority leader in the Senate who's going to bottle up and bury everything."
In contrast to the president's tone of cooperation, White House press secretary Josh Earnest chided Republican lawmakers, saying the GOP's approach to the opening days of the new Congress raises questions "about how serious they are about trying to work with the president."
"In the first five days that they've been in session, they've advanced five pieces of legislation all the way to the Rules Committee that they already know this president strongly opposes," he said.
Republicans had no plans to stop there.
Citing the terrorist attacks in Paris, Republican senators on Tuesday proposed restrictions on Obama's ability to transfer terror suspects out of the federal prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the remainder of his term — making it more difficult for Obama to fulfill his goal of closing the facility.
"Now is not the time to be emptying Guantanamo," Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire told reporters.
The contentious politics of divided government were on stark display as the House moved forward on a series of bills that face an uncertain future, at best, in the Senate — where the GOP remains six vote shorts of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most issues — and certain rejection by Obama.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said his bill on regulations would take aim at the "endlessly escalating, excessive federal regulatory costs" under the Obama administration. The White House objected that it would "create needless confusion and delay." The legislation passed 250 to 175.
The bill on Wall Street reforms — which would give U.S. banks an additional two years to ensure that their holdings of certain risky securities don't put them afoul of a new banking rule — was no sure bet to pass the Senate.
And on immigration, even some Republican senators were skeptical of the approach being taken in the House, where Republicans were using a $39.7 billion spending bill, which would keep the Homeland Security Department running past February, as the vehicle to overturn Obama's executive actions.
One amendment to be voted on Wednesday would undo steps Obama announced in November to allow deportation reprieves and work permits to 4 million immigrants in the country illegally. Another would nullify his 2012 action to allow more than 600,000 immigrants brought illegally to the country as children to stay and work here legally.
"Our response shouldn't be on the funding bill," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and some House Republicans acknowledged that the Senate was likely to reject their approach, perhaps forcing them in the end to pass a Homeland Security funding bill stripped of controversial language on immigration.
"One way or another we have to get DHS funding," said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y. "Hopefully sane minds will prevail, we can make some compromises and get it done."
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Marcy Gordon, Laurie Kellman and Donna Cassata and AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.