As Obama returns, advocates look for executive action

Expectations are high that President Obama can move ahead with controversial executive actions now that he has returned from his vacation.

Obama’s two weeks on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., were plagued by dual crises, in Iraq and in Ferguson, Mo. But his break was also something of a blackout period for news about actions the White House is weighing on immigration reform and so-called corporate “inversions,” a business maneuver companies use to reduce their tax burdens.

Obama will be in Washington for just one full week before departing on a trip to Estonia and Wales in early September to reassure NATO allies amid conflict with Russia.

Obama announced in June that he would take action on immigration “before the end of summer.”

Kamal Essaheb, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, pointed to Obama’s June remarks, saying the president promised to make policy consistent with American values, and “we expect him to do that when he’s back from vacation.”

“People are waiting every day to see if the president’s going to make an announcement,” he said.

Asked in a briefing if the president had received recommendations from the relevant Cabinet officials yet, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday that he had no announcements and, “I’m not sure of the status of the recommendations incoming to the White House.”

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Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), said in an interview on Friday that he expects that, now Obama is back from vacation, “there’ll be some additional consultation with members of Congress, specifically CHC, [about] what we’re looking at.”

He said nothing had been scheduled, however, adding that since Congress left for the August recess, he’s had “really no indication” of what the administration is thinking.

Another congressional proponent of immigration reform action, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), said before a meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson in July that the administration’s actions could affect 4 or 5 million people, a number that Schultz on Friday declined to comment on.

Gutiérrez made his prediction again on Friday, listing not only an expansion of Obama’s 2012 deferred deportation program, but measures easing restrictions that businesses and farmers say are hurting their workers.

“I think the president’s going to take action on all those levels,” Gutiérrez said. “He’s going to take broad, expansive action that the law allows him to take.”

In his district in Chicago, he said, “I am organizing and preparing already.”

Businesses have been pushing proposals such as giving work permits to spouses of workers with high-skilled job visas and freeing up green cards by not counting dependents under the cap.

Peter Muller, director of immigration policy for Intel, said the company’s lawyers had been meeting with administration lawyers.

“They’ve definitely given us signs that they are interested in all the options that are out there in the realm of high-skilled immigration,” he said.

The issue of corporate inversions might not be so dramatic as immigration reform, but Obama could also bring the tool of executive action to bear on it.

The administration wants to discourage U.S. corporations from “inverting.” In that move, an American company merges with a foreign one based in a low-tax jurisdiction in an effort to reduce its tax bill.

Obama said earlier this month, before leaving for vacation, that the administration is “reviewing all of our options” and wants to move “as quickly as possible.”

Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, a group that opposes inversions, said one option is to limit a practice known as “earnings stripping,” where the U.S. company takes on debt to its new foreign parent in order to be able to deduct more in taxes.

“I am confident that the White House is looking carefully at that measure,” Clemente said.

The president is scheduled to attend an American Legion convention on Tuesday and fundraisers on Friday but otherwise will be at the White House for meetings.

Whether any of those meetings will be about executive actions is unknown.