GOP uses 'emperor' against Obama

President Obama is poised Thursday to announce a series of unilateral actions on immigration that Republicans warn could set off a constitutional crisis.

Obama has said he will take a series of steps to change the immigration system that will reportedly included a sweeping expansion of a deferred action program that allows illegal immigrants to remain in the United States.


While the president and top administration officials say they are confident Obama’s moves will fall within the law, Obama has often warned that his power to change the immigration system alone is limited.

As recently as the fall of 2013, the president was warning activists that he’s not an “emperor” who can act without Congress.

The White House insists Obama’s position hasn’t changed, and that the disparity is a matter of emphasis.

But now that Obama is going it alone, Republicans are throwing his words back against him, with a spokesman to Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (Ohio) on Wednesday dubbing him “Emperor Obama” on the eve of his immigration announcement.

“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,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

Here's a look at how Obama has addressed the question of executive action on immigration over time:

October 25, 2010: Obama in the fall of 2010 was under intense pressure to take action on immigration from advocacy groups, particularly on behalf of people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Obama pushed back on those calls in an interview with Univision.

“My Cabinet has been working very hard on trying to get it done, but ultimately, I think somebody said the other day, I am president, I am not king. I can't do these things just by myself,” he said.

March 29, 2011: Pressed by activists at a town hall, Obama again insists he cannot act alone to ease deportations. “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case,” he said.

June 15, 2012: In the heat of his reelection campaign, Obama in the summer of 2012 announced the creation of a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows some younger illegal immigrants to gain temporary legal status. Obama said he was acting to "lift the shadow of deportation from these young people."

Jan. 30, 2013: After his reelection, activists began pressing Obama to go even further without Congress by halting all deportations of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

In an interview with Univision’s radio network, Obama said, “Well, I think it is important to remind everybody that, as I said I think previously, and I'm not a king.” But he also said that he had some leeway in how in applied immigration law, citing the deferred action program.

Feb. 14, 2013: Obama declares he’s not “emperor of the United States” when pressed about immigration during a Google Hangout.

“The problem is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed,” Obama said.

September 17, 2013: The president cites the role of Congress on immigration policy in an interview with Telemundo.

“My job in the executive branch is supposed to be to carry out the laws that are passed. Congress has said, here's the law when it comes to those who are undocumented, and they allocate a whole bunch of money for enforcement,” he said.

June 30, 2014: After Boehner declares that the House cannot move forward on an immigration reform bill due to distrust of the president, Obama vows to take action.

“If Congress will not do its job, at least we can do ours,” he said.

August 6, 2014: As Obama begins a review of possible administrative actions, he defends using his power to change the immigration system.

“The American people don’t want me standing around twiddling my thumbs waiting for Congress to do something,” Obama said.

He said the White House was “going to make sure every time we take one of these steps we are working within the confines of my executive power.”

September 9, 2014: With tough midterm races looming for Democrats in several key states, Obama delays his immigration orders until after the election.

Obama explained his decision in an interview on NBC, arguing that the political perception of the issue changed because of the surge of unaccompanied minors over the southern border during the summer.

“The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,” he said. “I want to spend some time, even as we're getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy.”

November 16, 2014: With rumors swirling that his immigration order was imminent, Obama defends his approach at a press conference in Brisbane.

"There are certain limits to what falls within the realm of prosecutorial discretion in terms of how we apply existing immigration laws," he said, before noting that the immigration system was strapped for resources.

"And so what’s within our authority to do in reallocating resources and reprioritizing since we can’t do everything. And it’s on that basis that I’ll be making a decision about any executive actions that I might take," he said.

"I will repeat what I have said before: There is a very simple solution to this perception that somehow I’m exercising too much executive authority. Pass a bill I can sign on this issue.”