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After G-20 Summit In Brisbane, Obama Focuses On Domestic Issues

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Obama is on his way home after a week-long trip to Asia. The president started the trip after his party took a beating in the recent midterm elections. But he still got some big things done during his travels. He signed deals on climate change, trade, and with the G-20 countries, he came up with a plan to boost worldwide economic growth. He gave a final press conference before leaving Australia, his final stop on the tour. Joining us now is NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what, if anything, struck you about the president's comments in Australia?

LIASSON: Well, what struck me was how ambitious he is even though he just had a huge electoral setback. And also how confident he seems about acting on his own. He's either undeterred or unaffected, depending on your point of view, about those election results. And certainly on issues like climate change or the Keystone pipeline - both of which are subjects of huge disagreements with the Republicans in the new Congress.

The second thing that struck me really from that press conference was how many domestic issues he was asked about which gives you an idea of the number of confrontations and divisive debates he's going to face when he gets back to Washington this week.

MARTIN: So speaking of those domestic controversies, he was asked about something to do with Obamacare - specifically about an MIT economist and consultant, someone named Jonathan Gruber. Who is this guy?

LIASSON: Yes. Jonathan Gruber was pretty obscure until recently. But he is a health care economist. He helped develop the computer models that were the underpinning for Romneycare in Massachusetts and Obamacare. And tape surfaced of him saying at a 2013 conference. He said, well, we couldn't tell the American people how the health care mandate worked, and that it was really a tax. We relied on, quote, the stupidity of the American voter.

Well, Republicans pounced. They said this shows that Obamacare was passed with a lack of transparency. It was built on a series of lies. And the president was asked about it at his press conference in Australia. And he said that's ridiculous. I don't agree with that at all. It's not true. And every single to single aspect of Obamacare was debated in Congress and in the Supreme Court.

MARTIN: Another controversial domestic topic - immigration. There have been reports recently that President Obama is going to take executive action on immigration which would mean he bypasses Congress. Did he talk about this at all?

LIASSON: Yes. He talked about it. He said he is going to go ahead. He had promised he would act by the end of the year. He said that his executive orders are basically his second choice. His preference is that Republicans in Congress pass a permanent legislative solution to the immigration problem, and then he said he would just crumple up his executive orders like a wad of paper and throw them in the waste basket because, of course, executive orders are temporary. They only last as long as he's in office. But question now is, as a president comes back to Washington, is exactly what he's going to do and when he's going to do it. Will he do it before or after Republicans pass a bill to fund the government? And then what will the Republican reaction be, and how will the public judge these two players? Will they think that the Republicans are having a temper tantrum? Will they think the president made an extra-constitutional power grab? And how will Latino voters react? So that's what we're waiting for to see the next couple of weeks.

MARTIN: Stay tuned, right? National political correspondent Mara Liasson talking with us about President Obama's recent trip to Asia. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 17, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
We say that President Obama may issue executive orders to change federal immigration policy. In fact, he is expected to use a less formal process — executive actions. We also say that any step Obama takes would expire once the president leaves office. That is incorrect. Neither executive orders nor executive actions expire when a president's term ends.