Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Boehner warns Obama not to act unilaterally on immigration

House speaker also indicates that Republicans are eager to move forward on Keystone-XL pipeline, taxes

The leader of the House of Representatives on Thursday sketched out an agenda for the new Republican-dominated Congress, promising approval of an oil pipeline from Canada and changes in President Barack Obama's health care law while issuing a warning on immigration.

In his first post-election news conference, John Boehner cautioned Obama not to act unilaterally to change the immigration system, saying it would "poison the well" in terms of trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress over the next two years.

Obama on Wednesday had reiterated his vow to act unilaterally before the year’s end to reduce the number of deportations and grant work permits to millions of immigrants illegally in the United States, prompting a stinging rebuke from Boehner on Thursday.

"When you play with matches, you run the risk of burning yourself, and he's going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path," Boehner told reporters.

The Republicans' resounding victory in Tuesday's midterm elections — the party regained control of the Senate and expanded its majority in the House — gives them an opportunity to push legislation that had been bottled up in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Boehner, working in tandem with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, said Congress would act on some 40 jobs bills that have bipartisan support, and on approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Boehner said finding common ground with the administration will be hard work, but it will be even harder if Obama is unwilling to work with Republicans.

He highlighted the comments Obama made Wednesday at the president's White House news conference, and said they were not helpful.

Bipartisan and comprehensive immigration legislation that the Senate passed in June 2013 remains stalled in the House.

"What I'm not going to do is just wait," Obama said Wednesday as he spoke of taking executive action.

But Obama, with just two years left to shape his presidential legacy, did say he saw openings for cooperation.

Republicans, for their part, have said that they must show they can govern in the next two years.

"We now have the votes and we have the ability to call the agenda, so stop name-calling and let's actually produce some legislation that helps jobs and the economy and moves our country forward," Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said in an interview. "I think the country has figured that out and they've given us the mandate to do it and we better produce, or they'll kick us out too."

House Republicans are counting on McConnell to move ahead on the dozens of jobs bills that the House has passed but that remain stalled in the Senate. They are also counting on a swift vote early next year on building the Keystone pipeline to carry crude oil from Canada to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast now that Republicans clearly have the numbers in the Senate.

Once all ballots are counted, the Republican Party could have as many as 54 Senate seats if Republican Dan Sullivan prevails in Alaska and the party wins a Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana. The House majority could reach historic levels of 250 out of 435 seats.

McConnell signaled on Wednesday that he could work with Obama on trade agreements and a tax overhaul as both sides look toward governing rather than gridlock, but it likely will not be easy.

Many of the moderate Democrats who would be willing to compromise were defeated in Tuesday's elections, reducing the number of lawmakers in the middle. In the next Congress, independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and moderate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana will hold considerable leverage.

Republicans will be under pressure from many in their ranks and from outside conservatives to repeal Obama's signature health care law. But McConnell and the more pragmatic Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is next to impossible as long as the president, who has veto power, remains in the White House.

"If I had the ability, obviously, I'd get rid of it," McConnell said of the Affordable Care Act as he spoke to reporters at a news conference in Kentucky. "Obviously, it's also true he's still there."

McConnell indicated that Republicans would attempt to undermine the health care law by repealing a tax on medical devices, which has some Democratic support, and would target the requirement that individuals sign up for health insurance or face a penalty.

Obama told reporters that ending the individual mandate was a nonstarter, calling it a "line I can't cross" because it would unravel the law.

On energy, McConnell was already exploring ways to derail Obama's plans to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants — that is widely blamed for climate change — a maneuver that some Democrats from coal states are likely to support, but that the president would likely veto.

Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, home to vast untapped oil reserves, is expected to chair the Senate Energy Committee, and Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who rejects the scientific consensus that global warming is being caused by fossil fuels, will likely lead the environment panel.

The Senate turnover from Democrats to Republicans could also complicate U.S. efforts to broker a new, international and legally enforceable deal to curb global warming, because a Republican-controlled Senate would be unlikely to ratify it. 

The Associated Press

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