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Politics & Government

Obama, Congress Feuding Over Keystone Pipeline, Immigration

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The American people want Congress and the president to work together. Politicians said that's the message they took from the midterm elections. And the thought was a nice one, but it's only been a little more than a week, and NPR's Tamara Keith reports, it's once again business as usual.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, that didn't take long. Just days after returning to the capital, House Republicans today, with the support of 31 Democrats, passed a bill that amounts to a thumb in the eye of the president. The bill would allow the politically charged Keystone XL Oil pipeline project to move ahead. Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Republican, spoke in favor of the measure on the House floor.

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CONGRESSMAN MARKWAYNE MULLIN: This pipeline would provide high-paying jobs that are well above minimum wage. Yet, despite the economic benefits, there's been zero action by this president.

KEITH: President Obama insists the project continued through what has been a lengthy review process at the State Department. He was asked about it at a press conference overseas today, and he pushed back on the idea that Keystone XL would create a lot of jobs or lower gas prices.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I understand what this project is. It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil - send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn't have an impact on U.S. gas prices.

KEITH: The Senate - for now, still controlled by Democrats - will take up an identical Keystone bill next week. It will get bipartisan support, though it isn't clear there will be enough to send it to the president's desk. And as far as conflicts with the White House go, this one is mild compared to immigration. President Obama says he will take unilateral action before the end of the year to change the way the nation's immigration laws are enforced. This could mean giving legal status to millions of people who now fear deportation. And let's just say Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner aren't happy about it.

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CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: We're going to fight the president tooth-and-nail if he continues down this path. This is the wrong way to govern.

KEITH: Boehner says all options are on the table for standing in the way of President Obama's immigration action. More than 60 House Republicans say in a letter, they want language blocking the president's plan attached to any must-pass government funding bill. Without new spending authority, the government would shut down December 12. Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky, doesn't agree with them. He's one of the people negotiating that spending bill.

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CONGRESSMAN HAL ROGERS: Like it's been said before, don't take a hostage you can't shoot. I don't want to shut down. And I don't want the threat of a shutdown.

KEITH: Leaders from both parties have indicated they agree. But they said much the same in the lead up to last year's government shutdown. How Congress handles the government funding bill could be one of the best predictors of whether the president and the new Republican Congress can work together in the new year. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.