Obama defends executive action

 

 

President Obama defended his use of executive action on Wednesday, signaling he's willing to take steps on immigration and tax policy if Congress fails to act.

Obama vowed to “scour our authorities” seeking opportunities to act “wherever I have the legal authorities to make progress.”

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“The American people don’t want me standing around twiddling my thumbs waiting for Congress to do something,” Obama said at a press conference that closed the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

At the same time, the president said the administration was “going to make sure every time we take one of these steps we are working within the confines of my executive power.”

“I never have a green light. I'm bound by the Constitution. I'm bound by the separation of powers,” Obama said.

Obama was asked about taking executive actions on two issues: immigration reform and corporate tax inversions, in which businesses seek to lower their U.S. tax bills by moving their headquarters overseas.

The administration has come under increasing pressure to act on both issues.

But the administration is also taking heat from congressional Republicans over Obama’s use of executive power. The House approved legislation last week that would authorize a lawsuit against Obama.

On immigration, the pressure is coming from Democrats and immigration activists who say the president should act because the House has ignored the Senate’s immigration reform legislation.

On tax inversions, the Treasury Department, worried that more and more U.S. companies are facing pressure to move their headquarters, is reportedly looking at action. Media reports have suggested a number of companies could choose to take advantage of the tax inversions in August, something that could deprive Treasury of significant tax revenue.

“We don't want to see this trend grow,” Obama said of tax inversions.

“It's not fair. Its not right. The lost revenue to Treasury means it has to be made up somewhere,” he continued, saying taxpayers would foot the bill either through reduced services or increased taxes.

The president said that the administration “can't solve the entire problem administratively” but would look for ways through regulation to “at least discourage some of the folks who may be trying to take advantage of the loophole.”

“My preference would always be for us to go ahead and get something done in Congress,” Obama said.

Walgreen’s on Wednesday announced it would not move its headquarters despite its plans to purchase a foreign company.

The president also said that his administration was examining how he could use prosecutorial discretion to tackle the issue of immigration control in lieu of congressional action.

“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.

Immigration experts say Obama could issue a prioritization memo on deportations that directs prosecutors to focus deportation efforts on individuals convicted of serious crimes, rather than those guilty of immigration violations. The president could also expand his deferred action program, which grants temporary legal status and work permits to children brought to the country illegally. 

“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 said one executive action — his decision to sanction Moscow over its support for separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine — was "working as intended" to impact the Russian economy.

"If you look at the markets and you look at estimates in terms of capital flight, if you look at projections for Russian growth, what you're seeing is that the economy has ground to a halt," Obama said.

Still, Obama conceded that "the issue is not resolved yet" and that it was only after Russian President Vladimir Putin had withdrawn support for the rebels and recognized Ukraine as an independent country that "we can say that the problems have truly been solved."

—This story was updated at 7:24 p.m.