Obama, Senate GOP to test new relationship

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Washington (CNN)Republican lawmakers insist they can strike some big deals with the White House in the coming months -- as long as President Barack Obama goes along with their ideas.

The first test of how the new Washington will operate -- whether Obama will bend to the GOP's will, and how hard the GOP will fight each battle -- could be the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,179-mile project that Republicans love, environmentalists oppose and the State Department has gone six years without approving.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged the first measure the Republican-controlled Senate will take up this January will be one authorizing the pipeline's construction. Obama, meanwhile, has signaled he could veto it.
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    "It is going to be a bellwether decision by the President," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
    Other Republicans made similar arguments Sunday.
    "This will certainly be a way in which we can measure where he's going to come down," Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, told Fox News.
    Keystone is one of the high-profile issues lawmakers will have on their plate after being sworn in Tuesday.
    So far, GOP lawmakers haven't explained how they'll soften their own positions to reach agreements with Obama, while insisting he should meet them on their terms on Keystone and more. Still, with control of both the House and Senate, they also said on Sunday it's up to them to prove the legislative process can function properly -- something they can't do without Obama's help.
    "We've got a lot of serious issues that need to be addressed. The bigger issues absolutely require the President to be involved, and I think with anticipation, we look forward to that opportunity," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, told Fox News on Sunday.
    Lawmakers debate whether to give Obama an updated authorization to use military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They'll need to extend Homeland Security funding past February.
    Two of Obama's major nominees need Senate confirmation: Ashton Carter as Defense secretary, and Loretta Lynch as attorney general.
    Government funding and debt issues loom larger -- with Republicans' leverage increased now that they control the Senate. But some top conservatives say they're hopeful they can strike deals on at least some major issues.
    "Based on our past experience, it would be a triumph of hope over experience," Thune said.
    "But you always enter a new session of Congress with high hopes, and I know that Republicans in the Senate are looking forward to and are willing to work with the President on areas where we can create jobs and grow the economy and strengthen America's middle class, and I hope the President will meet us there," he said.
    Many Republicans say the party has something to prove. New Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, said on ABC's "This Week" that the mark of a functional Congress is sending measures to Obama's desk that the President actually signs into law -- citing Keystone and regulatory legislation as possibilities.
    But others say it's up to Obama to set the tone for the weeks ahead.
    "He has an opportunity to actually show that he wants to work with Congress," said incoming freshman Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah.
    Another incoming freshman senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said many of the debates that will start in the coming weeks will extend into the next presidential campaign.
    "We need to demonstrate an ability to govern," Sasse said. "But we also need to admit that the big challenges facing this country aren't going to be solved in the next 24 months. We need to set the stage for a 2016 presidential election."
    The roster of Republican senators who could soon launch White House bids is long. It includes Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has used every congressional spending debate as a chance to face off with Democrats over Obamacare; Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has called for less U.S. intervention overseas; and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has insisted he'll try to shut down Obama's recent diplomatic move with Cuba.
    Republicans are also set on challenging Obama's recent moves on immigration, climate change, extending nuclear talks with Iran and more.
    GOP lawmakers insist they have strong grounds to try to block Obama on those issues, while also rolling back his health care law, in whole and in part: Voters ousted Democrats from the Senate majority and extended conservatives' advantage in the House in November's midterm elections.
    "We'll be voting on things I know he's not going to like and I hope we can put them on his desk," McConnell told CNN's Dana Bash in an interview aired Sunday on "State of the Union."
    But Washington's dynamics have shifted again since the election.
    Obama announced executive moves to overhaul U.S. immigration policies, thaw the diplomatic freeze with Cuba, curtail environmentally harmful emissions, extend nuclear talks with Iran and more -- all moves he delayed until after the elections, but that made 2014's final weeks by far his most active.
    Eager to keep his momentum from being stalled by the new Congress -- where the GOP will control both the House and the Senate for the first time in his presidency -- Obama is hitting the road.
    He's planning a three-day campaign-style swing later this week in which he'll talk higher education in Tennessee, housing in Arizona and jobs in Michigan -- previews of themes that will appear in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 20.
    That trip is likely to be followed by more, as Obama works to send Republicans the message that he won't be giving ground on his top accomplishments and priorities.
    "The President is eager to get to work, and looks forward to working with the new Congress on policies that will make sure middle class Americans are sharing in the economic recovery," said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, told CNN's Jim Acosta.
    "There are a number of issues we could make progress on, but the President is clear that he will not let this Congress undo important protections gained -- particularly in areas of health care, Wall Street reform and the environment," Schultz said.