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Can Washington be productive in Obama’s final years?

At the White House, President Obama addressed the midterm election setbacks for his party and the potential for working with Republicans. Judy Woodruff asks Republican Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona and Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland whether they see potential for compromise and progress on controversial issues like immigration.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, one of the questions facing President Obama after this midterm loss, will he make changes to his priorities and his leadership style?

    When the president met with reporters today at the White House, he was asked why he didn’t sit down and socialize more with Senator McConnell and other Republicans over the past six years. The president said he would work harder on that front, but he also made it clear there is a limit on how far he would go.

    Here are part of his remarks.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    Obviously, Republicans had a good night. And they deserve credit for running good campaigns. Beyond that, I will leave it to all of you and the professional pundits to pick through yesterday’s results.

    What stands out to me, though, is that the American people sent a message, one that they’ve sent for several elections now. They expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do. They expect us to focus on their ambitions and not ours. They want us to get the job done. All of us in both parties have a responsibility to address that sentiment.

    I’m eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible. I’m committed to making sure that I measure ideas not by whether they are from Democrats or Republicans, but whether they work for the American people.

    And that’s not to say that we won’t disagree over some issues that we’re passionate about. We will. Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign. I’m pretty sure I will take some actions that some in Congress will not like. That’s natural. That’s how our democracy works.

  • QUESTION:

    Despite the optimism that you’re expressing here, last night was a devastating night for your party. Given that, do you feel any responsibility to recalibrate your agenda for the next two years?

    And what changes do you need to make in your White House and in your dealings with Republicans in order to address the concerns that voters expressed with your administration?

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    The American people overwhelmingly believe that this town doesn’t work well and that it is not attentive to their needs.

    And, as president, they rightly hold me accountable to do more to make it work properly. I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district. And they want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through some of the gridlock and get stuff done.

    I do think there are going to be areas where we do agree, on infrastructure, on making sure that we’re boosting American exports. And, you know, part of my task then is to reach out to Republicans, make sure that I’m listening to them.

  • QUESTION:

    Are you going to have that drink with Mitch McConnell now you joked about at the White House Correspondents Dinner?

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    You know, actually, I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    I don’t know what his preferred drink is.

    But, you know, my interactions with Mitch McConnell, he’s always been very straightforward with me. To his credit, he has never made a promise that he couldn’t deliver. And, you know, he knows the legislative process well. He obviously knows his caucus well.

  • QUESTION:

    Moments before you walked out here, sir, Mitch McConnell said, and I quote, that if you, in fact, use your executive authority to legalize a certain number of millions of undocumented workers, it would poison the well, direct quote, and it would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

    Do you not believe that is the considered opinion of the new Republican majority in the House and the Senate?

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take. Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form.

    So, I just want to re-emphasize this, Major. 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.

    My executive actions not only do not prevent them from passing a law that supersedes those actions, but should be a spur for them to actually try to get something done.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Republicans won as many seats as they did last night in part by criticizing President Obama’s policies.

    But he still has two years left in office. Can the two sides bridge the gap and work together on anything?

    We get the perspective of two lawmakers, Representative David Schweikert. He’s a Republican from Arizona. And Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, he’s a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Both men were reelected last night.

    And congratulations to both of you, Congressman Schweikert and Congressman Van Hollen.

  • REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) Maryland:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Welcome.

    So, to you first, Congressman Schweikert.

    You know, we — the voters spoke loud and clear. They’re sick of gridlock. Is there going to be any less gridlock now?

  • REP. DAVID SCHWEIKERT (R) Arizona:

    I do hope so, because I think many of the voters actually were able to understand that much of the gridlock may have been at the Senate majority leader’s desk.

    What will happen now if we actually go back to sort of normal ways of doing business, conference committees going back and forth, and actually on — occasionally, actually putting legislation on the president’s desk for him sign or veto or kick back and say, here’s what he would be willing to do.

    I may be pathologically optimistic, but I’m hoping for actually some normal movement of legislation, at least an attempt of it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Congressman Van Hollen, are you as optimistic?

  • REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

    Well, I’m an optimist. And I hope certainly that we’re able to move forward on these things.

    But Dave mentioned the fact that there are all these bills in the Senate, for example, that Harry Reid hadn’t had a vote on. But if you look at the House, there are a whole pile of bills that we have never voted on, some of which, interestingly, last night saw strong public support for.

    So, for example, raising the minimum wage passed on referenda in very Republican states. It passed in Arkansas. It passed in South Dakota, passed in Nebraska, passed in Alaska. We haven’t even had a chance in the House to vote on that, and it was blocked in the Senate. So there’s some initiatives that we’d love to see votes on, as Dave said, that we have not had a chance to.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, before I ask you about some specific pieces of legislation, Congressman Schweikert, do you see Congress coming together on minimum wage?

  • REP. DAVID SCHWEIKERT:

    I don’t. I could actually see a discussion if the left is willing to work with us on concepts of training wage, what actually really affects urban unemployment, because some of the data’s actually a little dodgy in this debate.

    There’s also some fascinating numbers. If you also look at what states went from blue to red, take a look at also in sort of the energy patch states around the country, and there may be public policy which we’re hoping both the right and left might be able to find a way to hold hands and move forward on.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, I do want to turn to some other potential areas of agreement, Congressman Van Hollen, that were raised today both by Senator McConnell, who one — we assume Is going to be the new Senate majority leader. One of them is trade. Another one has to do with tax reform. The president at his news conference this afternoon mentioned both.

    Do you expect tangible progress on these?

  • REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

    Well, they both mentioned those things, as you said.

    And I think there’s a possibility of moving forward on the infrastructure issue. There’s widespread agreement, I believe, that our infrastructure in this country has become badly degraded, that we need to modernize it.

    Then the question is, how do you pay for it? And there are a number of proposals that the president has put forward, some others have put forward where you can close some of the tax breaks that actually encourage American jobs to move overseas, and by shutting down those tax breaks generate some revenue that you can then invest here at home in infrastructure and jobs.

    So, it would be great if there were meeting of the minds on that issue. On trade, I think people are going to look at it on its individual merits. What does any proposed agreement do to help American workers and the American economy?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Congressman Schweikert, what about those two? Do you see potential agreement in any of those areas?

  • REP. DAVID SCHWEIKERT:

    Trade will be fascinating.

    The votes, I believe, are already in the House for the trade promotion authority. I know that’s difficult, particularly for many Democrats that have large union bases that may oppose those. On things such as transportation, infrastructure financing, many of us have been working on trying to be much more creative in the funding of it, because, right now, even those tax breaks, they help, but they don’t do, create enough capital, enough revenue. So, we have had discussions of, could you use energy leases across the country and bond at revenue, so you get a real kick of infrastructure capital in a short period of time?

    So there’s ideas out there. Will we now do what’s supposed to happen, which is you battle through the ideas and hopefully come together and move legislation?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, let me also ask both of you about immigration.

    We heard Senator McConnell say to the president it would be a big mistake — in fact, he said for the president to do executive action on immigration would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull. The president himself a few minutes later said that’s exactly what he intends to do.

    Congressman Van Hollen, what do you expect on immigration?

  • REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

    Well, let’s start with the fact that the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Again, we kept hearing about how Harry Reid is bottling things up.

    They had a bipartisan vote in the Senate on that. In the House, we never had a vote. I’m confident that, if we had a vote in the House, it would pass. So, what the president is saying is, the clock is now running out on that bipartisan bill. By the end of this year, with the new Congress, it goes away.

    So, he’s invited the speaker of the House and the new leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, to come to the table and say, how can we work this out? But the president has been clear we have to work something out. The president knows that he cannot enact a comprehensive immigration bill through executive authority.

    The question is whether he could take some limited steps within his executive authority, as previous presidents have done.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you see grounds for agreement on immigration, Congressman Schweikert?

  • REP. DAVID SCHWEIKERT:

    Well, I hope the key words there were work something out limited.

    Being from a border state, where the transfer costs of illegal undocumented immigration really hits but hard, I must share with you, if the president takes unilateral action, I believe he will turn the immigration issue toxic for the next decade.

    So, this needs to be dealt with disciplined and actually following the law. And, actually, I think many of us in the House, even being from a border state, are willing to look at the incremental mechanics, because immigration is actually a very complex issue with lots and lots of moving parts to it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, just in the final seconds that we have left, I want to ask both of you, do you feel that the American people are going to see a Congress that is functioning better after this election?

    Congressman Van Hollen?

  • REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

    The answer is, it depends on whether the people who are coming to Washington ran on a platform of trying to work with the president and trying to engage in compromise for the common good.

    My fear is that too many of the candidates, especially a lot of the Tea Party candidates, continued to run on a platform of no compromise. And, therefore, to deliver on their promise to their constituents, they have to continue to be obstructionists.

    If people want to reach out and find common ground, that’s what the American people. That would be great. I’m an optimist. Like Dave, I hope that is what happens.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Congressman Schweikert, what do you expect?

  • REP. DAVID SCHWEIKERT:

    Judy, I don’t want to be rhetorical on this.

    I genuinely believe we have some huge issues. The votes are there with some mechanics, some compromise, and negotiations. But it’s going to take the president to do something, both communicating with his left, with those of us on the right, actually showing up, returning phone calls.

     

    He needs to basically do a Bill Clinton or George Bush. And that is engage in the process, not just from the bully pulpit, but also on the human relations, because those human relationships, I believe, will help move legislation.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Congressman Dave Schweikert, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, and, again, congratulations to both.

  • REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN:

    Thank you, Judy.

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