Friday, November 7, 2014
Obama and Congressional Leaders Discuss How to Move on Immigration. Biden Uses Soup Spoon on Caesar Salad.
WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner warned President Obama in person Friday that taking unilateral action to ease deportation of undocumented immigrants would rupture relations with the new Republican majority and would kill efforts to overhaul immigration policy as congressional leaders gathered at the White House for the first time since Tuesday’s elections.
At a session that also touched on efforts to fight Islamic terrorists and halt the spread of Ebola, Mr. Boehner tried to assure Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders that Republicans intended to pursue immigration law changes next year. But, despite prompting by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Boehner would say only that it would take months to make progress, according to accounts of the meeting provided by multiple people familiar with what took place.
The mostly cordial session over a lunch of herb-crusted sea bass and pumpkin tarts was held in advance of a lame-duck session of Congress scheduled to begin next Wednesday, and the lawmakers each left with a six-pack of White House beer. But, Mr. Obama’s vow to take action on immigration is certain to hang over the return of lawmakers after an election that saw Republicans grab control of the Senate and increase their House majority as of January.
While it was not discussed at the White House session, Senate Democrats have begun weighing whether to allow Republicans a vote on their proposal to block any executive action by the president — a plan that Democrats believe they can defeat on the floor.
During the meeting with 13 House and Senate leaders, officials said, the president pushed back against Mr. Boehner, saying Mr. Obama had legitimate authority to act on his own as other presidents have. He was backed in that argument by Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader.
“The president has the authority to act by executive order on immigration,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters after the session. “It’s in the law, but it’s also in the precedent of other presidents, whether it’s President Eisenhower, Kennedy, both Bushes, President Reagan — it just goes on and on.”
The meeting also included a briefing by Pentagon officials on efforts to combat the Islamic State militant group. Mr. Obama told congressional leaders that he intended to work with them on a new authorization to use force against the group, most likely in the new Congress. Aides to Mr. Boehner said the speaker welcomed that decision and reminded the president that, historically, the White House has drafted the resolution, sent it to Capitol Hill and help push its passage. Mr. Boehner said Republicans would help with its approval.
The White House, on a day when administration officials were trumpeting the ninth straight month of more than 200,000 additional jobs, said the president urged congressional leaders “to pass a budget for the rest of the fiscal year in the same bipartisan, drama-free way they did earlier this year because there is no reason to create uncertainty for businesses that are putting Americans back to work.”
The offices of Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and current majority leader, and Mr. Boehner have been conferring over a lame-duck agenda, with both parties trying to game out what would be to their advantage to dispose of before Republicans take over the Senate and what they can afford to push into 2015.
Leaders of both parties would like to fund the government through Sept. 30 and eliminate any talk of a shutdown for now. Members of the Appropriations Committees favor doing it through a package of new spending bills rather than just funding agencies at current levels. Passing the new bills in a so-called omnibus allows lawmakers to reset agency priorities, but House Republicans have balked in the past at passing such big packages and the leadership may have to settle for a simple extension.
They also have expressed growing interest in trying to pass legislation overhauling the National Security Agency’s once-secret program that is systematically collecting records about Americans’ phone calls. The legal basis for the current call records program, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, will expire in June 2015 without new action.
But because surveillance issues can scramble the usual partisan lines — splitting libertarian conservatives from national security hawks, for instance — it may be in the Republicans’ interest to get the bill out of the way before they assume control of the Senate, avoiding internal discord.
The House of Representatives in May passed a version of the bill, called the U.S.A. Freedom Act, but the Senate has not yet taken up its version, sponsored by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee. In September, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, and Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general, endorsed Mr. Leahy’s bill. It also has support from Silicon Valley as well as from the conservative Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas.
The central element of Mr. Leahy’s bill would get the N.S.A. out of the business of collecting bulk domestic phone records, which it uses to analyze links between people in hope of identifying previously unknown associates of terrorism suspects. Instead, the records would stay in the hands of phone companies, and a new kind of judicial order would permit the government to swiftly obtain calling records of a suspect, along with those of callers up to two links away, even if different companies hold them.
Senate officials are also in negotiations over possible approval of select judicial, executive branch and ambassadorial nominations.
Congressional leaders also want to approve a renewal of the terrorism-risk insurance program and extend a series of business and energy tax breaks, making some of them permanent.