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Republicans Sort Their Priorities For The New Congress

The sun sets on the U.S. Capitol Building on the National Mall in Washington. On January 6th, Republicans will take over both chambers for the 114th Congress.

The 114th Congress convenes on January 6th and GOP leaders are preparing their to-do list for the new year, when they will control both chambers. The November elections were a victory for Senate and House Republicans and the change in Congressional leadership will mean a new legislative landscape for President Obama, who entered the White House with a Democratic majority behind him.

First on the list, according to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will be the Keystone XL oil pipeline. NPR's Ailsa Chang reported Monday on the tone of that first legislative action.

"It will kind of be the first test for McConnell to see if he holds true to his promise that he'll let both Republicans and Democrats propose amendments to shape bills. He's said he would on Keystone, even contentious amendments."

The most-watched issues going forward will likely be immigration reform and Obamacare. McConnell has promised a vote to repeal the Obama Administration's health care law, telling Roll Call that it was "a very big issue in the election." As for immigration reform, a big sore spot for Republicans who were angered by the President's recent executive action, USA Today referred to it as one of the "tough sell" actions for a GOP-led Congress, calling the issue "politically flammable."

"Republicans are searching for a response that will appease hard-charging conservatives who want the GOP to block the president's action — but that doesn't alienate the fast-growing, politically powerful Hispanic population."

Last week, NPR's Tamara Keith examined the coming year in Congress and how it might signal a change in the President's political tactics.

"As viewed from the left, President Obama agreed to water down every major piece of legislation in those first two years to keep moderate Democrats on board and unsuccessfully trying to get Republican support. The great, new era of bipartisanship never arrived. Six years and two wave elections later, the big Democratic majorities in Congress are gone. Republicans are about to hold more House seats in the 114th Congress than they have since the 1920s. Oh, and they've taken back the majority in the Senate, as well. Will this change President Obama's approach to governing?"

Maybe. NPR's Steve Inskeep sat down with the President before he left Washington for the holidays. Mr. Obama said he was prepared to use his veto power more often but is optimistic for a productive year with the GOP leadership.

"What I've said repeatedly is that I want to work with them; I want to get things done. I don't have another election to run.

There are going to be areas where we agree and I'm going to be as aggressive as I can be in getting legislation passed that I think help move the economy forward and help middle-class families. There are going to be some areas where we disagree and, you know, I haven't used the veto pen very often since I've been in office, partly because legislation that I objected to was typically blocked in the Senate even after the House took over — Republicans took over the House.

Now I suspect there are going to be some times where I've got to pull that pen out. And I'm going to defend gains that we've made in health care; I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water.

But what I'm hopeful about — and we saw this so far at least in the lame duck — is a recognition by both Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell that people are looking to them to get things done and that the fact that we disagree on one thing shouldn't prohibit us from getting progress on the areas where there's some overlap."

A deadline is already approaching on February 27th, when the Department of Homeland Security will run out of funding. That deadline was specially planned by Republicans in order to quickly revisit immigration reform once the GOP took control of Congress.

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