A few days after House Speaker John Boehner announced plans to sue him over his use of executive orders, President Barack Obama appeared in the White House Rose Garden Monday to announce…more executive orders.
Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, was there, ostensibly, to talk about immigration reform. But while he did address the crisis on the Southern border, where since the beginning of the year tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have been apprehended crossing illegally, the president’s larger purpose seemed to be to provoke action from Boehner and his GOP allies.
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Obama said that because Boehner had informed him that the House would likely postpone any action on immigration reform until next year, that he would take action immediately to reinforce the border patrol with other assets from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. He also said that he had asked DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to provide him, by the end of the summer, with other options for addressing immigration reform and promised to implement them “without delay.”
The remarks, coming so soon after Boehner’s lawsuit threat, seemed calculated to send a message. In his remarks, Obama acknowledged Republican complaints, but expressed no remorse. In fact, he defended his use of executive actions, saying he uses them “only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing.”
He added, “I don’t prefer taking administrative action. I’d rather see permanent fixes to the issues we face…I would greatly prefer that Congress do something.”
House Republicans have blocked action on multiple issues central to the president’s policy agenda in recent years, even in cases where a bipartisan majority appeared willing to move forward. Obama pointed out that it was a year ago this month that the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill which by most accounts would pass the House if it were brought to the floor for a vote, but which House leadership has effectively killed.
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Obama said he had been willing to compromise on the Senate-passed immigration bill, parts of which he disliked, and that he would be willing to work with House Republicans if they would take action on legislation.
“The only thing I can’t do is stand by and do nothing while waiting for them to get their act together,” Obama said. He pointed out that a bill that becomes law would override any previous executive actions that conflict with it.
“If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking so many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills,” he said. “Pass a bill. Solve a problem. Don’t just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done. Because if we pass a bill, that will supplant whatever I’ve done administratively. We’ll have a structure there that works and it will be permanent and people can make plans and businesses can make plans based on the law. There will be clarity both here inside this country and outside.”
Of Boehner, his chief antagonist in the Republican House, Obama said, “I think he genuinely wants to get something done.” However, he described him as unable to overcome the GOP’s hard right Tea Party faction, which objects to many of the reforms that even moderate Republicans support.
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For his part, Boehner struck back Monday evening with a strong statement objecting to Obama’s characterizations of the House of Representatives and, to be fair, ignoring the president’s offer to compromise.
"In our conversation last week, I told the president what I have been telling him for months: the American people and their elected officials don't trust him to enforce the law as written. Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue. The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system. It is sad and disappointing that – faced with this challenge – President Obama won't work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can't and won't fix these problems.”
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