WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama firmly rejected advice from top congressional Republicans on Friday that he delay his promised executive action on immigration reform, dismissing calls from critics inside and outside his party to allow Congress to debate the issue next year.

Over a two-hour lunch, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and their lieutenants warned Obama that his acting alone on immigration would spoil chances for bipartisan agreement on other issues when the new GOP-controlled Congress convenes.

Seated with 12 top members of the House and Senate in the Old Family Dining Room, Obama shot back that he intended to proceed, saying that he had already waited almost two years for congressional action on immigration. He added that his decision should not upend opportunities for cooperation on unrelated matters, according to aides familiar with the exchange.

ANNOUNCEMENT UPCOMING

The new focus on Obama’s plans to revamp the nation’s immigration system by executive fiat came as the president is reportedly reviewing proposals to allow as many as 5 million illegal immigrants to stay in the United States at least temporarily, according to several people familiar with his plans. He is expected to announce his intentions after returning from a visit to China, Myanmar and Australia, either this month or in early December, said those familiar with the subject, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Obama’s immigration pledge became political grist for Republican congressional candidates, who opposed his decision to act unilaterally. And after a dismal Democratic showing in the midterm elections Tuesday, David Axelrod, a former Obama adviser who remains close to the president, suggested via Twitter that Obama should “shelve” his plans to take action in hopes of an “up or down vote” in the House.

But congressional Democrats and immigration-reform activists insisted that Obama will proceed as planned. Some have expressed regret that he has not already acted.

“He should do it. . . . Just get it done,” said Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., a first-term lawmaker who lost re-election on Tuesday in his South Florida district.

Garcia lost to Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County School Board member who snatched back a seat that Republicans lost two years ago. Garcia said that instead of settling the immigration issue by taking action, Obama had allowed “a sustained, continuous conversation” among Democrats to fester, exposing intraparty divisions.

“Republicans not only were bad on immigration at the beginning of the year, they were bad during the year, they were bad at the end of the year,” Garcia said. “At the same time, we’re being wood-shopped for not moving on the executive order.”

ALLOW A BILL TO THE FLOOR

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that Obama “is very focused on” immigration and that Republicans can do only one thing to stop him.

“They can allow that common-sense, bipartisan bill from the Senate to come to the floor of the House of Representatives,” he said. “And if the House passes that Senate bill, the president won’t take executive action. Maybe the republic will be saved. Maybe the ego of the House Republicans will not be bruised. Certainly, the United States of America would benefit significantly from them taking that step.”

Earnest was referring to a 2013 Senate bill passed with bipartisan support that would make sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration and border-security system. But Boehner and House Republicans rejected the measure.

Boehner did not rule out introducing immigration legislation if Obama decided not to take action. “This immigration issue’s become a political football over the last 10 years or more. It’s just time to deal with it.”

SECRET TALKS?

On Friday, aides to Boehner played down published reports that the speaker had engaged in secret talks about immigration with Obama since after the 2012 election.

“There was no negotiation; there was no substantive conversation,” said a senior GOP aide familiar with the exchanges. Instead of there being immigration-specific meetings, the subject came up several times during meetings or phone calls between the two on other matters, the aide said.

Even as Republicans remain divided on what to do about immigration, there appears to be unanimity among them that Obama should not get involved until legislation has been passed.

“Surely he has someone around him who can communicate to him how tone deaf it would be for him to act by executive order,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in an interview Friday. “Surely he understands how divisive that is and how it really would start us off in exactly the wrong place.”

The chairman of the Republican National Committee also warned Obama on Friday against taking executive action. RNC head Reince Priebus said that if the president signs an “executive amnesty” order, he will be “throwing a barrel of kerosene on a fire.”