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Obama in Myanmar for ASEAN summit
04:31 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

President readying executive order on immigration, White House press secretary says

Republican leaders have said such a move would be a "poison pill"

Obama is in Myanmar to attend the ASEAN economic summit

CNN  — 

For President Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress, distance does not make the heart grow fonder.

With the president escaping to Asia for a critical foreign trip after last week’s bruising losses for his party, White House officials are signaling Obama will take a hard-nosed approach with Congress when he returns to Washington.

Obama is “nearing a final decision” on issuing an executive order bringing reforms to U.S. immigration policy, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. Earnest reiterated the President’s goal to act on the issue by the end of the year.

Immigration reform advocates working with the administration on the expected executive action anticipate Obama will expand his policy of deferred deportation for undocumented children to their families, a move that may provide enforcement relief to as many as five million people.

The expected incoming Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has described such a move as a “poison pill” that would damage relations with the new Republican Congress coming into power in January.

Aides to the President brush off those GOP warnings, noting threats from Republican leaders to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Obama has vowed he will never sign that repeal legislation into law.

“Repealing Obamacare is also a poison pill,” White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer said.

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Earnest cited the President’s new climate change deal with China as another area where Obama can pursue his own agenda without Congress.

Asked whether the administration believes the United States can meet the agreement’s carbon emission requirements without congressional involvement, Earnest said simply, “we do.”

Administration officials believe the United States is well on its way to holding up its end of the climate deal, citing Obama’s executive decisions to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks as well as new rules that set tougher emission requirements for power plants.

In his own response to the climate agreement, McConnell questioned whether China would be as ambitious.

“I read the agreement - requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state and other states around the country,” the Kentucky Republican said.

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China would have to make “significant” changes in meeting its energy needs in order to comply with the deal, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said.

On another top priority for Republicans, passage of legislation to accelerate completion of the contested Keystone oil pipeline, Earnest suggested the President is warming up his veto pen.

Earnest declined to definitively say Obama would veto such legislation. But he quickly added the President has taken a “dim view” of similar bills in the past.

Top White House officials insist the President remains interested in working with Republicans on a range of common interests, from tax reform to infrastructure spending.

Obama is visiting Myanmar for the second time in two years to attend the ASEAN economic summit while checking in on democratic reform efforts in the nation also known as Burma.

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Making the transformation from a closed-off military state to a parliamentary democracy, Myanmar happens to be a beneficiary of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill.

McConnell, who was originally a sponsor of sanctions on Myanmar’s military leadership, was praised by Rhodes in Naypyitaw for his role in winding down those economic penalties.

“Senator McConnell has been a champion of democracy here in Burma,” Rhodes volunteered to reporters.

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04:08 - Source: CNN