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Despite Election Losses, Obama Still Sees Hope For Bipartisanship

Weeks of preparation at the White House for the next phase of Obama's presidency. Hope for bipartisan solution, plans for a busy lame duck session.

Posted on November 5, 2014, at 1:32 a.m. ET

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — White House officials Tuesday evening insisted that having Republicans in control of the House and Senate can usher in a new era of bipartisanship in Washington — despite the GOP's promise to be a check on President Obama's power.

With Republicans taking control of the Senate and little change of the House GOP's makeup, the possibility of bipartisan agreement on anything beyond the most basic functions of government seems remote. But the White House says it has been planning for such a political reality, hoping to shape a final chapter of Obama's term in office marked by more than heavy usage of the veto pen.

White House aides said Tuesday the administration remains hopeful the election will break the legislative logjam that has been the hallmark of Washington for four years.

Obama's team already has a laundry list of issues it says it can connect with the new GOP leadership on. Corporate tax reform meant to funnel new funds into infrastructure projects, pre-kindergarten education funding, and funding for cybersecurity and fighting Ebola are possibilities, the White House says.

Also still in play, according to Obama's top aides: an increase in the minimum wage, which voters across the country — in red states and blue states — supported at the ballot box Tuesday night.

Most of these agenda items have been on the White House wish list for a long time now. But with a new Republican majority that GOP leaders say needs to show it can govern to overcome the party's enduring unpopularity, Obama's team hopes to forge the big legislative compromises that have been basically unheard of in recent Washington memory.

Obama will also continue his pen-and-phone strategy of going around Congress. The president has promised to take sweeping executive action on immigration in the near future, a promise White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has reinforced from the daily briefing podium as recently as this week. Other executive branch efforts to combat climate change and other topics are expected to continue apace.

Still, there's a change coming to Washington. And the White House says it's ready for it. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has been leading preparations for the coming lame duck session, where Democrats will retain control of the Senate until the newly elected Republicans are seated in January, and beyond. The effort has included cabinet officials and outsiders McDonough has turned to for advice on how to navigate the newly Republican waters.

On Friday, Obama will begin the process of reaching out to the new Congressional leadership, with a bipartisan meeting with leaders from both houses of Congress at the White House.

Obama himself is said to be very eager to put the election season behind him and move on. In addition to the immigration actions, the president is expected to select a new Attorney General to replace the outgoing Eric Holder. The 2015 State of the Union speech is already being discussed, as well as how to go about working with the resurgent Republicans.

Obama will physically distance himself from the election, too. Next week he leaves for a week-long diplomatic swing through Asia.

As for the election itself, the White House says the GOP wave needs to be put into perspective. Democrats faced a brutal Senate map — Obama said Tuesday it was "probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower" — and the foreign crises and Ebola scare made it difficult for Democrats to drive their core domestic messaging ahead of Election Day.

Democrats have already begun lining up to blame Obama for the party's failures Tuesday. It's a storyline administration officials have bristled at for months. Now Obama will have to try and reunite his defeated party while also reaching out to Republicans eager to get a crack at him from the majority position. White House officials say that's a challenge they're ready for.

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