President Obama vowed Friday he wouldn’t “stand by” on taking immigration executive action, declaring improvements were “way overdue” to the way the federal government handles the millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
“I indicated to Speaker Boehner several months ago that, if in fact Congress failed to act, I would use all the lawful authority that I possess to try to make the system work better,” Obama told reporters at a press conference in Burma. “That's going to happen. That's going to happen before the end of the year.”
Obama might also expand eligibility for the current deferred action program, which allows children who were brought to the United States illegally and remained in violation of the law to stay in the country and work. The administration might also expand the number of visas available to high-tech skilled workers.
Reports of those plans have drawn outrage from Republican lawmakers, who say the president is ignoring the message sent by voters in last week’s midterm elections.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Friday that “all options are on the table” to prevent executive action, explicitly refusing to rule out a government shutdown over the issue. Some Republicans have suggested attaching language to an upcoming spending bill that would bar the government from using federal funds to implement his executive action.
But Obama chided Republicans for saying action on immigration could poison the well on other deals.
“The one thing that I think is going to be important for us to have a successful partnership over the next couple of years is not making differences on one issue a deal breaker on every issue,” Obama said.
He added he was “game” to collaborate on issues like trade and tax reform, where there were areas of agreement.
“Let’s get to work,” Obama said.
He also said lawmakers had “ample opportunity” to pass legislation to prevent him from acting unilaterally.
An administration official traveling with the president in Burma told CBS News Obama had received frequent updates on the range of options under consideration, although the official cautioned that no final decisions had been made.
"This isn't like the Academy Awards, where the president gets an envelope and doesn't know what's inside," the official said. "He's been involved throughout."
The official said the White House knew Republicans would be unhappy with the action when it was announced but was gauging when would be best to unveil the plans.
There is concern within the administration about rolling out the action before Congress agrees to a spending bill. Lawmakers have until Dec. 11 to strike an agreement to prevent a government shutdown, and Democratic leaders have encouraged the White House to wait until after then to make their announcement.