President Obama said he would prefer to accomplish his ambitious second-term agenda with the help of Congress but will employ “a judicious use of executive power” where necessary to reach policy goals.
Obama’s remarks, made during an interview with the New Republic, come as many in Washington expect the president’s administration to push forward aggressively with a host of regulations in the coming months and years.
But they still came under fire from some on the right. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, for example, described Obama’s unilateral actions, which include an order directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the causes of gun violence, as an "executive power-grab."
Obama pushed back on that argument during the New Republic interview.
"[T]he notion that we wouldn't be collecting information on gun violence just to understand how it happens, why it happens, what might reduce it — that makes no sense,” Obama said. “We shouldn't require legislation for the CDC to be able to gather information about one of the leading causes of death in the United States of America.”
However, the president maintained that he has not changed his view on when or how to exert his executive authority following a first term in which many of his key initiatives won congressional approval.
“I don't think it's changed,” he said. “I continue to believe that whenever we can codify something through legislation, it is on firmer ground. It's not going to be reversed by a future president. It is something that will be long-lasting and sturdier and more stable.”
As an example, he pointed to the legislation ending the so-called “Don’t ask, don't tell” policy that banned openly gay people from serving in the military. Obama said members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community hounded him early in his presidency to end the policy through executive order.
By building consensus and convincing the Pentagon to support the policy, supporters wound up with a law that sparked little controversy, he said.
“It's been almost thoroughly embraced, whereas had I just moved ahead with an executive order, there would have been a huge blowback that might have set back the cause for a long time,” Obama said.
Still, Obama said he would not hesitate to act on his own in instances when he found it necessary.
"[W]hat I do see is that there are certain issues where a judicious use of executive power can move the argument forward or solve problems that are of immediate enough import that we can't afford not to do it," he said.