At least they have college football.
That appeared to be the only subject of real agreement between congressional Republicans and President Obama on Tuesday as both sides met for the first time this year.
Huge differences over energy and immigration policy continue to dominate the debate on Capitol Hill in the run-up to Obama’s State of the Union address next Tuesday, and the White House has promised to veto any legislation that tries to roll back the president’s recent changes in immigration policy. The GOP-controlled House is expected to pass a new spending bill doing just that on Wednesday.
Veto threats have also been issued against a bill authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that passed the House last week and that will be debated in the Senate for the next several days.
Obama’s decision to reject both measures has cast doubt on hopes for a new era of bipartisan compromise and productivity in Washington. The moves have irked GOP leaders, who believe they have a midterm-election mandate to negotiate with Democrats and pass legislation after years of inaction.
“The president seems to think we should start only by presenting the ideas that he likes,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), an ally of GOP leaders, said Tuesday. “He’s the president of the United States — he’s not the emperor of the universe.”
At the White House on Tuesday, the only common ground seemed to be on the football field.
“To the speaker, I just wanted to point out, I said there are going to be some things that we agree on,” Obama said of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “Having a college football playoff is clearly something we can agree on.”
Boehner, an avid Ohio State fan, was happy about the Buckeyes’ win over the Oregon Ducks in Monday’s inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship, and Obama reminded lawmakers at the start of their meeting in the Cabinet Room that he had advocated for a college football playoff system years ago.
Obama announced support for a playoff system in 2008. The NCAA approved a playoff in 2012 and used for the first time this season.
Aides said that the White House meeting included talk of Republican plans to pass the Keystone bill and for work to begin on a GOP-backed plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September. The bill would block spending for Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration and is expected to include Republican-sponsored amendments to end temporary protection for some illegal immigrants brought into the country as young children.
Boehner has faulted Obama for threatening to veto the bills, but White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Republicans are “recycling old legislation that they know that the president strongly opposes.”
“Based on the legislative strategy that they’ve pursued over the first 10 days or so, there’s not an indication that they’re willing to change their tactics,” he added.
During the meeting, Obama pledged to work with Congress on new cybersecurity legislation in the wake of recent hacker attacks on Sony Pictures and the Twitter account of U.S. Central Command, aides said. He also is working on a new authorization for military action against the Islamic State militant group operating in Iraq and Syria, according to administration and congressional aides. GOP leaders have been pressuring Obama to formally request the authority to wage war on the Islamic State so Congress can launch a fresh war debate.
But the White House and Democrats plan to keep pressure on Republicans as they take up the homeland-security spending bill.
Funding for DHS expires on Feb. 27. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats invoked the recent terrorist attacks in France to suggest that Republicans are needlessly delaying security funding to make a political point.
“You think it would have heightened the urgency to pass a Homeland Security bill, but Republicans still say no, still say ‘no’ to passing a clean bill, unless they can be a menace to immigration,” Pelosi said.
Boehner disputed such suggestions and shot down questions about the GOP alienating Hispanics, Asians and other immigrant groups who support Obama’s decision to take executive action.
“Our goal here is to fund the Department of Homeland Security. And our second goal is to stop the president’s executive overreach,” Boehner told reporters Tuesday.
“This is not about, actually, the issue of immigration,” he added. “What it is: It’s about the president acting lawlessly.”
Boehner’s language was evidence of the difficult balancing act Republicans face when it comes to talking about immigration. Some Republicans have blamed the GOP’s poor performance among Hispanic voters in recent elections on a too-conservative posture on border security and citizenship. Others have said Republicans have not been forceful enough in responding to Obama’s executive actions.
The spending bill is expected to pass along party lines on Wednesday before both chambers adjourn early for a joint House-Senate Republican policy retreat in Hershey, Pa. Senate Democrats are holding similar closed-door meetings Wednesday and Thursday in Baltimore. House Democrats will meet later this month in Philadelphia.
Katie Zezima contributed to this report.