(Bloomberg) — Two former top U.S. Senate leaders predicted there will be room for compromise on significant policy issues between President Barack Obama and the new Republican-led Congress, even on immigration policy.
“There are some areas where clearly I believe that the president working with the Congress can make some progress,” former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican, said on the Charlie Rose program that aired Thursday on PBS.
“You’ve got Mitch McConnell saying a lot of the right things,” Tom Daschle, a Democrat and also a former Senate majority leader, said on the same program. He was referring to Senator McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who is poised to become majority leader.
Lot and Daschle also talked about how the new Congress might approach health policy.
See also: GOP Patient Rights Bill Prevails.
Republicans won at 245 seats in the House of Representatives seats on Nov. 4, giving Republicans their largest majority since World War II. The party gained at least seven Senate seats, more than enough to take control in January.
Daschle said that, while President Barack Obama must honor his pledge to issue executive orders easing immigration laws, the focus should be on agreeing on legislation with Congress.
“It can be an installment,” he said, “to a series of things that could be done.”
Lott served as majority leader from 1996 to 2001, while Daschle was majority leader from 2001 to 2003. Their assessment that there is space for compromise on immigration policy goes against what many in Washington are predicting based on signals from Obama and Republican leaders.
Obama yesterday repeated a promise to take action by the end of the year to halt deportations for some undocumented immigrants if Congress doesn’t move on rewriting U.S. law.
House Speaker John Boehner said Obama will “burn himself if he continues to go down this path.” He spoke at a news conference today in Washington, one day after McConnell said executive action by Obama on immigration would be like “waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
Both leaders weighed in on how the president and Republican leaders must make changes to break the gridlock that’s paralyzed Congress the past few years.
Daschle said Obama must have “more of a conciliatory mood.” Obama will meet with congressional leaders at the White House tomorrow in their first face-to-face discussion since Republicans swept Senate races in Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina to take control of the chamber next year.
“It’s maybe hard for some to become more inclusive, to become more engaged, to become more personal,” Daschle said. “But I think in this case it’s essential to good governance.”
Lott said McConnell also needs to change. “He needs to be more accessible and more aggressive,” he said. “You need to initiate the calls” with Obama “and get over the insults,” Lott said of McConnell.
They also recommended starting joint caucus meetings between Republican and Democratic lawmakers and weekly meetings between the president and leaders from both parties.
“If you start to get to know each other and develop relationships — and I know in some cases quietly and privately members do talk across the aisle — but you got to do it as a caucus and you have to do it with some regularity,” Daschle said.
Lott said Republicans will go through the motions of dismantling the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Obama’s health-care law, and that it’s better for them to “quickly have a vote to repeal it, and get it all the way through the process.” Then the president will veto it, he said.
That vote is necessary to appease Republicans who argue that the election was a referendum to repeal the health law, which was the subject of numerous attack ads that helped defeat vulnerable Democrats. Among those who will push the hardest for more votes on repealing Obamacare is Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite.
Cruz alienated many of his Senate colleagues in demanding to attach a repeal of Obamacare to a bill to temporarily fund the government, culminating in a 16-day partial government shutdown last year.
Lott said that to deal with lawmakers like Cruz, leaders should “pull them in, meet with them, talk to them, go to them early and often,” he said. He said he also had a group of senators, moderates and liberals, he had to “keep an eye on.”
“What did I do? You know, I had a singing senators’ quartet,” Lott said.