Obama promises more executive action

CAMBRIDGE, Md. – President Obama vowed Friday to do everything in his power to help the middle class – with or without Congress.

Speaking to House Democrats attending their annual issues conference on Maryland's Eastern Shore, the president doubled down on his State of the Union promise to use his executive authority at every turn to advance policies benefiting working people.

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"The single most important thing we have to do, not just as a party, but as a country, is make sure that there is opportunity for every single person, that we are focused every single day … making sure that if you are willing to work hard and take responsibility that you can get ahead," Obama told his fellow Democrats.

"I want to work with Congress to make that happen. But, I'm not going to wait, because there's too much to do. And America does not believe in standing still," the president said.

Obama highlighted several steps he's taken already on that front, including a recent executive order to hike the minimum wage for government contractors.

"These aren't teenagers," Obama said, pushing back against a common criticism of the minimum wage hike. "These are folks who are looking after families and trying to raise kids."

The remarks came as leaders in both political parties are settling into campaign mode ahead of this year's mid-term elections. As part of that transition, Obama and the Democrats are increasingly emphasizing their economic agenda – not only a universal minimum wage hike but other policies like unemployment benefits, retirement security and comprehensive immigration reform, which they say will help the working classes do better in an economic recovery where a large bulk of the gains have gone to the wealthy.

Obama was quick to concede there are limitations to his executive powers, though. 

"Across the board, we're moving," Obama said. "But … we can get a whole lot more done if we've got Congress working with us."

He urged Congress to enact an immigration bill, calling it "a top priority." The president acknowledged the political thicket that surrounds that issue, particularly for Republicans, but asked lawmakers to transcend their political concerns and focus on the practical effects of such reform. 

"I believe, frankly, that there are folks on the other side of the aisle who genuinely want to see this done. But they're worried and they're scared about the political blowback," Obama said.

"Look, everybody here is an elected official and we can all appreciate the maneuverings that take place, particularly in an election year," he added. "But when it comes to immigration reform, we have to remind ourselves that there are people behind the statistics."