President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform won’t “tear up the Constitution,” White House communications director Jen Palmieri insisted Thursday amid criticism the president was poised to move in ways he had previously argued were unconstitutional.


“The president was right — he’s not a king,” Palmieri said during an interview with MSNBC. “He can't just pick up the piece of legislation that the advocates and he were pushing for and implement that. So what he has done is asked the Justice Department and Homeland Security to look into see what he can do legally. And those are the actions that he's going to take.”

Republicans have seized on the president’s repeated insistence that his abilities to address immigration reform are limited to argue that he will be overstepping his authority when he announces his executive actions in a prime-time address Thursday night.

Obama is expected to unveil a program that allows millions of illegal immigrants who have been in the country for at least 5 years and have familial ties to U.S. citizens and no criminal record to defer deportations and receive a work permit. The president is also expected to broaden eligibility for a program for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, and expand the number of visas issues to skilled high-tech workers and their families.

In 2012, Obama said he had “done everything that I can on my own” to address immigration. And a year later, he said “broadening” the deferred action program would mean “essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally” and was “not an option.”

“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his Constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for Congressional action on this issue — and many others,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFrom learning on his feet to policy director Is Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush MORE’s (R-Ohio) spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

But Palmieri said the White House would provide “all the legal justification to show” that the president’s actions were legal and said the executive order “doesn’t tear up the Constitution.”

“We’re not concerned about that,” she said. “The president will announce what he's doing tonight and will explain, and people can look at the legal justification and make that determination.”

She added that Congress had “free will” to act on its own, and that the White House would welcome a legislative solution.

“This is not the way we want to proceed,” she said. “It's not solving the problem permanently.”