Obama’s key executive actions

Obama’s key executive actions
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President Obama’s use of executive power will be a major issue in this fall’s midterm elections.

The GOP is rallying its base to give control of the Senate to Republicans as a check on Obama’s powers, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has announced the House will vote in July on a lawsuit against the president’s use of executive power.


Obama, for his part, is embracing the criticism. “So sue me,” he said in a speech last week.

The White House believes that by using executive power, Obama can distinguish himself from a Congress he wants to pain as dysfunctional and obstructionist.

Despite the attention to Obama’s use of executive power, the president has actually issued fewer executive orders than some of his predecessors.

Still, Obama’s efforts on a range of policy issues highlight his determination to add second-term achievements to his scorecard with or without Congress.

Here are some key executive actions Obama has and will continue to pursue:


In June 2012, Obama announced that his administration would defer deportations for two years for people who came to the United States illegally as children.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has allowed people who are in school, have graduated or have been honorably discharged from the military to stay in the country without fear of deportation. More than 550,000 youths have received the two-year deportation deferrals, which are now being renewed for another two years.

The DACA program stands as one of Obama’s most significant executive actions, and he’s signaled a willingness to go further given the stalemate in Congress on immigration legislation.

It’s unclear exactly what Obama has in mind, though he’s been pressured by Hispanic groups to do more to lower deportations.

Contraception mandate

The Supreme Court’s decision to throw out ObamaCare’s mandate that private employers offer contraception in their employee health plans was a serious blow to the White House.

But the decision came with a caveat. Justice Anthony Kennedy said it would be possible for the administration to pay for the contraception coverage itself.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest hinted the administration might find a way to reverse the decision without legislation, though what precise steps the White House will take are unknown.

Climate change

Obama’s use of executive actions to fight climate change have been among his most aggressive, and are expected to be a major battleground in Senate and House races around the country.

In early June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rules that would require power plants to cut their carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 30 percent by 2030. The proposals aren’t expected to be finalized until summer 2015, after which states will be given a year to design their own implementation plans.

 Minimum wage

Obama has been unable to get Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, but he did use executive actions to raise the wage for federal contract workers to $10.10.

Obama signed the order in mid-February, but it will be a while before it takes effect because it applies to federal workers such as dishwashers, construction workers and janitors hired under new federal contracts beginning in January 2015.

Gun control

Legislation to impose tougher background checks on gun purchases died in the Senate, but that didn’t stop Obama from announcing 23 executive actions to combat gun violence.

The action include steps to make information about mental illness available in the federal background check system. He’s also expanded research into the causes of gun violence. 

Obama has said Congress’s inaction on gun control is the biggest disappointment of his presidency.

Closing the gap for same-sex couples

The administration has gradually extended federal rights to same-sex couples since the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 that the Defense of Marriage Act barring gay marriage is unconstitutional.

In June, the Labor Department announced a proposed rule that would extend protections of the Family Leave Medical Act to eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages regardless of whether they lives in a state that recognizes their marriage.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced in February that the government would allow same-sex couples to file jointly for bankruptcy and mandate that they will not be compelled to testify against each other in trial. The administration also now treats same-sex couples like married couples when it comes to filing taxes.