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Obama exhorts Republicans to put politics aside

By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

LAST UPDATED: 12:00 p.m. HST, Jan 4, 2011

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE — President Barack Obama, returning to Washington after nearly two weeks in friendlier environs, urged Republicans Tuesday to build on the progress forged in the lame-duck session of Congress and delay electoral considerations for at least another year.

"There will be plenty of time to campaign for 2012 in 2012," Obama said at the start of the nearly 5,000-mile flight back to nation's capital. "Our job this year is to make sure that we can build on the recovery."

The president and his family wrapped up a holiday getaway to Hawaii yesterday and returned to the White House at about 6:30 a.m. Hawaii time.

The president returned as Republicans, set to assume greater control of Congress when the body convenes Wednesday were outlining their initial legislative priorities, including a swift vote in the House of Representatives to repeal the president's signature initiative from the first half of his administration, health reform.

The president, looking rested as he came to the press cabin of Air Force One to wish reporters a happy new year, said he would prefer to work with GOP leaders in the same way they successfully navigated the post-election period of Congress, including a compromise that extended tax breaks for all earners and unemployment benefits.

"They are going to play to their base for a certain period of time," he said of the GOP. "But I'm pretty confident that they're going to recognize that our job is to govern, and make sure that we are delivering jobs for the American people and that we're creating a competitive economy for the 21st century, not just for this generation but for the next one."

Air Force One departed from Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu late Monday night, 12 days after arriving in his home state. It was a vacation marked by routine — regular morning workouts, afternoon trips to the golf course or beach.

Obama also spent time considering a review of West Wing staff prepared by interim Chief of Staff Peter Rouse. On Monday, aides revealed that former Commerce Secretary William Daley was being considered as the permanent replacement to Rahm Emanuel. The president also was trading e-mails with speechwriters back in Washington in preparation for his second State of the Union address. He also signed five bills while in the Aloha State and made six recess appointments to various administration posts.

This week, the president will sign into law a significant overhaul of food safety laws. But the focus of Washington will be the seating of the 112th Congress on Wednesday, when the Republican gains from November will be realized. Ohio Republican John Boehner will formally claim the gavel as speaker of the House from California Democrat Nancy Pelosi. In the Senate, the Democrats' majority will be trimmed to seven seats from a high of 20 at one point in the 111th Congress.

The split control of Congress ensures that while Republicans in the House will aggressively seek to overturn the accomplishments of the Democratic-controlled Washington of 2009 and 2010, repeal efforts will fall short once they hit the Senate. Obama ultimately stands poised to veto any such effort that goes beyond the Congress.

Beyond the planned House vote on repealing health care, another major flashpoint looms in the spring when Congress must vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling or face a government shutdown. Republicans say they will only consider doing so if major spending cuts are also considered. White House economic advisers have said failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic.


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