BRISBANE, Australia — President Barack Obama Sunday (Monday in Manila) wrapped up what was arguably the best week he’s had in years. Then he had to go home.
Stung by low approval and the loss of the Senate to the Republicans, Obama enjoyed a surprisingly successful weeklong trip to China, Myanmar and Australia. He secured the first commitment by China to control its greenhouse-gas emissions, broke a trade impasse with India and persuaded other nations to help fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And he was greeted warmly throughout.
Back in Washington on Monday, he’ll face Republican talk of a government shutdown if he acts unilaterally to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S., and charges that the Affordable Care Act was deceptively sold to the American people. But for a week overseas, he was able to work and bask seemingly in a different world.
“You’re always popular in somebody else’s country,” Obama told students at Mayanmar’s Yangon University. “When you’re in your own country, everybody is complaining.”
Obama arrived in Beijing last week further weakened by the Democratic party’s losses in the midterm elections. Obama managed to secure a number of successes in a region of the world he has long tried to embrace while aggressively moving forward on domestic issues as if his party hadn’t lost the election.
“I’d say that’s a pretty good week,” Obama said at a wide-ranging news conference before departing Brisbane for Washington late Sunday. “The American people can be proud of the progress that we’ve made. I intend to build on that momentum when I return home.”
In addition to the foreign agreements, he dove head-first into the debate over net neutrality by calling for Internet service providers to be treated like public utilities and subjecting them to tight regulations. He hinted he might veto a bill to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline. And he said Sunday that he expects this week to put the finishing touches on the order that could shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, despite complaints from Republicans that such a move would defy the will of voters in the midterms and poison relations in Congress.
Republicans on Capitol Hill began debating whether to hold up the federal budget if Obama continues with his plan to act on immigration unilaterally.
Obama said he believed Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate majority leader, when he said Congress would not advocate any more government shutdowns. “We traveled down that path before,” Obama he said. “It was bad for the country. It was bad for every elected official in Washington.”
Obama also tried to brush aside the brouhaha over recorded comments by Jonathan Gruber, one of the paid consultants on the Affordable Care Act, that it was deliberately designed to get it past not only Congress, but also the public.
“The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters, is no reflection on the actual process that was run,” Obama said.
“Pull up every clip, every story, and I think it’s fair to say that there was not a provision in the health care law that was not extensively debated and was fully transparent,” he said. Asked if he himself misled people, he said flatly, “No, I did not.”
In Asia and Australia, Obama came to the region with the upper hand economically, with the U.S. growing while many other nations in Europe and Asia are struggling.
U.S. officials hoped to use that leverage to convince other nations to follow their lead on boosting the economy by favoring programs that push for growth over austerity.
In Australia, at a gathering of leaders of the world’s largest economies, they agreed to programs to boost infrastructure investment, bring more women into the labor force and close tax loopholes used by some international companies. All are programs Obama has pushed at home with little success. They agreed to aim for a boost in global economic growth of at least 2 percent by 2018.
“As our Australians friends say, this just wasn’t a good ole chin wag…. It was a productive summit,” he said. “These were not just goals set without any substance behind them.”