ABC News reporter Jon Karl asked Obama today if he has a green light, because of inaction in the Congress, to push the limits of executive power. He followed with a more direct question on immigration, asking Obama if he has the power to grant work permits to illegals:
John Karl, ABC News.
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’ 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?
OBAMA: I think that I never have a green light. I’m bound by the Constitution. I’m bound by separation of powers. There’s 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 have 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 permitting process, for example. I can make sure we’re working with the private sector to see if we can channel investment into much-need much-needed projects. But ultimately, congress has to pass a budget and authorize spending. So I don’t have a green light.
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 to the middle class, whether it’s by making sure that federal contractors are paying a fair wage to workers, making sure that women had the opportunity to make sure that they are 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 have already put in place so 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.
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, as I have said before, not only the American people want to see action, not only is there 80% 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 the 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, you know, scour our authorities to try to make progress. 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.
JON KARL: Do you have the power to grant work permits to those who are here illegally as some of your supporters have suggested?
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 have 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 some place else and we’re going to have to prioritize. That’s well within our authority authorities and 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 choices. That’s what I was elected to do.