WASHINGTON - In a rare one-on-one meeting, President Obama and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday sized up the prospects for bipartisan cooperation between a White House and Republican Party that have struggled for years to find common ground.
Ahead of the Oval Office meeting, Obama outlined his most specific blueprint yet for striking compromises with Congress when the GOP takes full control of Capitol Hill next month. The president said there was "definitely a deal to be done" on overhauling the nation's complicated tax code, but suggested it could take lawmakers more than six months to iron out the details of such an agreement. He said a deal on infrastructure spending could be included in a tax overhaul package and predicted progress on overseas trade agreements.
On immigration, Obama said he expected Republicans to attempt to dismantle his recent executive orders, then eventually come around to the idea of pursuing legislation to deal with the millions of people in the United States illegally.
"I don't think that's something this Congress will be able to do right away," Obama said during a question-and-answer session with business leaders. "Temperatures need to cool a bit in the wake of my executive action."
McConnell, the Kentucky lawmaker who is soon to become Senate majority leader, has broadly agreed with Obama's calls for tax reform, improving the nation's infrastructure and inking free-trade pacts. But McConnell said Tuesday that he has been "perplexed" by Obama's response to his party's sweeping defeats in the midterm elections last month, specifically his decision to press forward with presidential directives on immigration.
"I don't know what we can expect in terms of reaching bipartisan agreement," McConnell said. "That's my first choice, to look at things we agree on - if there are any."
Neither McConnell nor Obama spoke publicly after their hour-long meeting Wednesday. A spokesman for McConnell called the sit-down "a good meeting" but gave no details.