During a press conference, President Obama spoke at some length about his executive power, in light of congressional gridlock. Jon Karl of ABC News posed the question about the President’s executive powers in terms of whether Congressional intransigence gives him a “Green light to push the limits of executive power.”
Q Thank you, Mr. President. When you were running for President, you said, “The biggest problems we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse.” So my question to you — has Congress’s inability to do anything significant given you a green light to push the limits of executive power, even a duty to do so? Or put another way — does it bother you more to be accused of being an imperial President, pushing those limits, or to be accused of being a do-nothing President who couldn’t get anything done because he faced a dysfunctional Congress?
This question is framed almost verbatim as a I describe the President’s policy powers is “Congressional Intransigence and Executive Power.” Does Congressional intransigence give the President heightened inherent powers, to push his executive authority to new limits?
At first, the President noted that he is bound by the Constitution and the separation of powers, and that there are things we can’t do. He has no “green light.”
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think that I never have a green light. I’m bound by the Constitution; I’m bound by separation of powers. There are some things we can’t do. Congress has the power of the purse, for example. I would love to fund a large infrastructure proposal right now that would put millions of people to work and boost our GDP. We know we’ve got roads and bridges and airports and electrical grids that need to be rebuilt. But without the cooperation of Congress, what I can do is speed up the permitting process, for example. I can make sure that we’re working with the private sector to see if we can channel investment into much-needed projects. But ultimately, Congress has to pass a budget and authorize spending. So I don’t have a green light.
So the President can only take action where he has “the legal authorities to make progress.”
What I am consistently going to do is, wherever I have the legal authorities to make progress on behalf of middle-class Americans and folks working to get into the middle class, whether it’s by making sure that federal contractors are paying a fair wage to their workers, making sure that women have the opportunity to make sure that they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job, where I have the capacity to expand some of the student loan programs that we’ve already put in place so that repayments are a little more affordable for college graduates — I’m going to seize those opportunities. And that’s what I think the American people expect me to do.
But where there is “dysfunction,” the President will “scour our authorities to try to make progress.”
My preference in all these instances is to work with Congress, because not only can Congress do more, but it’s going to be longer-lasting. And when you look at, for example, congressional inaction, and in particular, the inaction on the part of House Republicans, when it comes to immigration reform, here’s an area where, as I’ve said before, not only the American people want to see action, not only is there 80 percent overlap between what Republicans say they want and Democrats say they want, we actually passed a bill out of the Senate that was bipartisan. And in those circumstances, what the American people expect is that, despite the differences between the parties, there should at least be the capacity to move forward on things we agree on. And that’s not what we’re seeing right now. So in the face of that kind of dysfunction, what I can do is scour our authorities to try to make progress.
So he will work “within the confines of my executive power.” That doesn’t answer the initial question posed–whether congressional intransigence expands the scope of those executive powers.
And we’re going to make sure that every time we take one of these steps that we are working within the confines of my executive power. But I promise you the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done. Even as we take these executive actions, I’m going to continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans — to the Speaker, to the leadership on both sides and in both chambers — to try to come up with formulas where we can make progress, even if it’s incremental.
Karl posed a follow-up question about the scope of that executive power–can the President grant work permits?
Q Do you believe you have the power to grant work permits to those who are here illegally, as some of your supporters have suggested?
The President ducked the question.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I certainly recognize with respect to immigration reform — and I’ve said this in the past — is that we have a broken system; it’s under-resourced; and we’ve got to make choices in terms of how we allocate personnel and resources. So if I’m going to, for example, send more immigration judges down to the border to process some of these unaccompanied children that have arrived at the border, then that’s coming from someplace else, and we’re going to have to prioritize. That’s well within our authorities and prosecutorial discretion. My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law. And we already have a bipartisan law that would solve a whole bunch of these problems. Until that happens, I’m going to have to make choice. That’s what I was elected to do.
What that choice is, we will have to find out.