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Obama Presents Legislative Priorities to Congressional Leaders


FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama is seen in an armored vehicle. Obama is meeting with the top Republican congressional leaders on Feb. 2, 2016, to see if they can reach accord on 2016 legislative goals.

Barack Obama, the Democratic U.S. president now in his last year in office, laid out five 2016 legislative priorities Tuesday as he met with the top Republican congressional leaders.

The White House said Obama wants Congress to approve the 12-nation Pacific Rim free trade pact, resolve the financial crisis in the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico, support more research for a cancer cure, ease mandatory prison sentences for some criminals, and fight the country's opioid addiction epidemic with $1.1 billion in new funding.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that on the trade deal, "The president is eager to see Congress take that action as soon as possible this year."

Obama met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan at the White House, even as Democrats and Republicans alike already are focused on the presidential election campaign to pick Obama's successor.

After the three met, Obama hosted Ryan for a private lunch, the president's first face-to-face meeting with him since the Wisconsin congressman assumed leadership of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives three months ago.

FILE - House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.
FILE - House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The White House said Obama was hoping to build on an agreement at the end of last year on a bipartisan federal budget. At that time, the fractious parties both yielded on some of their spending priorities, averting the possibility of a government shutdown as the Christmas and New Year's holidays neared.

At odds with Republicans

Obama has frequently been at odds with opposition Republican lawmakers in Congress during the first seven years of his White House tenure, often calling for more spending on domestic programs while Republicans sought to scale back social welfare programs and boost defense and national security funding.

Within hours of Ryan's White House visit, House Republicans will attempt to override Obama's veto of legislation they passed to overturn his signature national health care reforms. But with solid Democratic support for the health care law, Republicans in both the House and Senate lack the two-thirds majorities they would need to override the veto.

Trade, criminal justice, sanctions

More Republicans than Democrats favor Obama's trade deal. But it is unclear when Congress might vote on it, possibly not until after next November's presidential election, just weeks before he leaves office in January 2017.

Obama and Republicans could agree to move ahead on criminal justice reforms that would ease strict sentencing requirements for some nonviolent offenders.

Republicans also are calling for further sanctions against North Korea in the wake of its latest nuclear test.