US & Canada

US mid-terms: White House holds cross-party talks

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Media captionObama said the Republicans had had a "good night" in Tuesday's election and pledged to hear their ideas

US President Barack Obama and leaders in the House and Senate have held cross-party talks aimed at ending political gridlock in Washington.

Friday's White House luncheon came after the Republicans won control of the Senate in Tuesday's elections.

Mr Obama, a Democrat, and heads of both parties in the House of Representatives and Senate were to explore avenues of compromise after years of rancour.

Republicans have called their victory a rebuke of Mr Obama's policies.

On Friday, the president was joined for lunch by 16 senior legislators including presumptive incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

"The American people just want to see work done here in Washington," Mr Obama said, flanked at the dining table by Mr Boehner, outgoing Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Mr McConnell, and Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

"They are frustrated by the gridlock. They'd like to see some co-operation, and I think all of us have the responsibility - me in particular - to try and make that happen."

Mr Obama said he hoped to discuss university affordability, infrastructure investment, overhaul of the tax system, and deficit reduction.

"Those are all going to be areas where I'm very interested in hearing and sharing ideas," he said.

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Image caption Mr Obama, centre, was flanked by leaders in Congress from both parties at the dining table

But the talks were not entirely conciliatory, said Republican Senator John Cornyn. The Texas politician said he spoke out during the lunch against Mr Obama's proposal to use his unilateral presidential authority to ease the deportation threat against some illegal immigrants.

Mr Obama has vowed to act on his own if Congress fails to pass an immigration overhaul.

"I made clear to the president that we should tackle immigration reform together on a step-by-step basis, beginning with border security and respect for the rule of law," Mr Cornyn said.

"Unfortunately the president's promise to unilaterally go around Congress ignores the message voters sent on Election Day."

On Tuesday, the Republicans won control of the Senate and solidified their hold on the House of Representatives.

With the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the party can complicate, if not block completely, Mr Obama's agenda in the last two years of his tenure in the White House.

Control of the Senate could also enable the Republicans to stymie his ability to name new federal judges, cabinet members and senior government officials.

Analysis, Jon Sopel, BBC North America editor

Barack Obama has said he's prepared to sit down and drink bourbon with Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, and is even prepared to allow the leader of the House, John Boehner, to let him win at golf again.

So on what other issues might we see progress?

Mr Obama has wavered over the Keystone XL pipeline that will run from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico for fear of offending environmental campaigners, even though business is desperate for the measure and it would create jobs.

The president could trade that for Republican support to back greater spending on infrastructure - roads, bridges and the like.

Corporate tax reform is firmly on the Republican agenda, but the president would not want to concede this without something back. Perhaps it would be movement on increasing the minimum wage, something that was backed in ballot initiatives in a number of Republican states on the night of the mid-term elections.

Obama and Republicans playing nicely for now

The new Congress will be sworn in on 3 January.

Following the election, Mr Obama and senior Republicans pledged to work together to end the political gridlock that has virtually paralysed Congress and that reached its culmination with the shutdown of the US government in a budget stalemate last year.

The mid-term election campaign was characterised by widespread frustration expressed by voters about the inability of the two parties to work together.

In the wake of the Republican gains, Mr McConnell vowed to make the Senate function and pass bills, after sessions that were the least productive in the chamber's history.

Mr Obama on Wednesday said he was "eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible".

But on immigration, he warned he would consider acting on his own to reduce deportations.

Republicans in numbers

  • 100 Women elected to Congress - including Mia Love - first black Republican female

  • 1st African American, Tim Scott, elected in the South since 1870

  • 3rd George Bush - grandson and nephew of two former presidents

  • 18 Age of Saira Blair, the youngest elected state legislator

  • 30 Age of Elise Stefanik, youngest woman elected to US Congress