Reporters at President Obama’s first press conference after the midterm elections pushed the president over whether the crushing losses suffered by Democrats will make him acquiesce to GOP policy demands. The answer was a resounding no, particularly on the issue of immigration reform.
The clearest signal of Obama’s unwillingness to back down in the wake of the GOP’s electoral domination was his explicit promise to issue an executive order on immigration reform by the end of 2014.
“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take,” Obama said.
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Obama said he will reach out to leaders in Congress as well, and “if they want to get a bill done, whether it’s during the lame duck or next year, I am eager to see what they have to offer.”
“But what I’m not going to do is just wait.”
Advocates have speculated that such an order could provide millions of immigrants with at least temporary deportation relief and keep families and communities from being torn apart.
Every day of delay on immigration reform means more deportations. Meanwhile, the administration has approved plans to build a massive new detention center, exclusively for imprisoning immigrant women and families, that has some Democratic senators “deeply concerned.”
Reporters at the White House press conference peppered the president with questions about how—or if—he’ll give into Republican policy demands now that the GOP controls the House and Senate.
“Do you feel any responsibility to recalibrate your agenda for the next two years?” one reporter asked, pointing out that Democrats had suffered a “devastating night” at the polls when they lost their Senate majority to Republicans.
“In 2010, you called the results of the midterm election a ‘shellacking,'” another reporter said. “What do you call this?”
Obama acknowledged Republicans had “a good night,” without offering any more colorful nouns for the headlines.
And while he said he looked forward to working “together” with Congress to get things done, he didn’t acknowledge any sort of mandate for a rightward policy shift.
“I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district,” Obama said.
Obama’s delay on immigration reform was an attempt to protect vulnerable Senate Democrats, but it seemingly wasn’t enough to give Republicans a worse election night.
“I suspect that when I announce that executive action, it’ll be bright full of detail,” Obama said, declining to go into any more specifics on what the order would do.
Obama’s invitation to leaders in Congress to come up with a bill of their own often sounded more like a dare.
Obama said that while it’s his “profound preference and interest” to get an immigration bill through Congress, and while House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was “sincere” about getting one passed, Boehner hadn’t gotten the work done to pass the Senate’s hard-fought, bipartisan bill.
Obama said he felt obliged to do everything under his authority “to make sure that we don’t keep on making the system worse,” but that any executive actions he takes can be replaced by an act of Congress.
“You send me a bill that I can sign, and those executive actions go away,” he said.
Pressed on whether taking executive action on immigration would “poison the well” on Congress taking action, as the presumptive future Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has threatened, Obama seemed unimpressed.
“If, in fact, there is a great eagerness on the part of Republicans to tackle a broken immigration system, then they have every opportunity to do it,” he said.
Obama also drew a line in the sand over repealing the Affordable Care Act, the individual mandate, or any other pieces that would “undermine the structure of the law” if removed. Republicans have said in recent days that the Senate would now join the House in continually voting to repeal the reform law that has given health care to more than eight million people.
He also pushed raising the minimum wage as a bipartisan issue, given that voters in five out of five mostly red states voted for ballot measures to increase the wage.