President Barack Obama defended his use of executive actions during a press conference that closed the African Leaders Summit on Wednesday.
ABC reporter Jon Karl asked Obama whether he believes Congressional inaction gives him the “green light to push the limits of executive power, even a duty to do so.”
“When you were running for President you said, quote, ‘The biggest problems that 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 when I’m president of the United States of America.’” Karl reminded the President.
The reporter continued, “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?”
Obama eschewed the suggestion that he felt he had the “green light” to act, before laying out broad executive actions he could take.
“I think that I never have a green light. I’m bound by the Constitution,” Obama replied. “I’m bound by separation of powers. There’s some things we can’t do.”
The President went on to vow to “scour our authorities” and act “wherever I have the legal authority to make progress.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
It’s worth noting that there is ample polling data to the contrary. In fact, a recent Rasmussen poll found that a clear majority of Americans (63 percent) disagree with Obama’s penchant for executive orders and say that Congress must approve legislative changes.
Possible executive actions include measures to prevent tax inversions— U.S. companies moving headquarters out of the Nation to avoid taxes— and changes to U.S. immigration laws.
“We don’t want to see this trend grow,” Obama said of tax inversions.
The President suggested that Administration is examining policy measures to “at least discourage some of the folks who may be trying to take advantage of the loophole.”
“It’s not fair. It’s not right. The lost revenue to Treasury means it has to be made up somewhere,” he said.
On immigration, the President hinted at a couple of possible Administrative measures.
“We have a broken system, it’s under-resourced and we’ve got to make decisions in how we allocate personnel and resources,” Obama said.
Obama suggested that executive actions could be used to direct immigration officials to focus deportation efforts only on illegal immigrants guilty of serious crimes not related to their citizenship status.
“We’re going to have to prioritize — that’s well within our authorities and prosecutorial discretion,” Obama said. “My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law.”
The President is also expected to expand his deferred action program that allows young immigrants to apply for temporary legal status and work permits.