President Barack Obama returned from a productive trip to Asia back to a Washington where confrontations loom with Republicans on immigration and a massive oil pipeline project.
On the foreign policy front, there is a Nov. 24 deadline in nuclear negotiations with Iran, and questions are surfacing within the administration about whether to overhaul U.S. policy toward Syria.
Given his faltering political support in the U.S. and his party’s recent election losses, Obama’s trip to China, Myanmar and Australia appeared to offer respite.
The president, who returned to the White House late Sunday, basked in policy breakthroughs with China and warm welcomes in Myanmar and Australia.
“I intend to build on that momentum when I return home, ” Obama said at a news conference before heading home.
When Obama set off for the Asia Pacific, both the White House and Republicans were suggesting that the Republicans’ decisive takeover of the Senate in this month’s elections could pave the way for bipartisan breakthroughs. But just two weeks after the election, that talk largely has faded, making it increasingly likely that Washington will churn through two more years of gridlock.
Republicans attribute the swift shift in tone largely to Obama’s plans to move forward with executive actions on immigration that potentially could shield from deportation about 5 million immigrants who are living in the United States illegally. The president has pledged to announce the measures before year’s end; he could act shortly after returning to Washington.
The incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has warned that such executive actions would “poison the well” with the new Republican-led Senate.
Republican leaders are considering what to do if Obama presses ahead.
The party is also in a bind over immigration: the U.S. electorate is rapidly becoming more diverse, especially more Hispanic, and Republican leaders have said the party risks its long-term future if it does not act to solve America’s immigration problems. But immigration reform has been thwarted by conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives.
The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast also has political implications.
Democrats see passage of a bill forcing construction of the project as a last-ditch effort to save Sen. Mary Landrieu, who faces a runoff election next month against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy in oil-producing Louisiana.
The House passed a measure to move the project forward on Friday, and the Senate is set to act. But Obama has all but threatened a veto.
On Iran, Obama faces a deadline to reach a final agreement in sensitive nuclear negotiations. High-level talks in Oman last week failed to make major headway, potentially setting Obama up for a choice between pursuing another extension or abandoning the diplomatic effort.