President Barack Obama pushed back on the idea that he's an imperial president Wednesday, saying that while he is considering additional executive orders on immigration and in other areas, he is "bound by the Constitution."
A reporter asked the president about a quote from his campaign railing against then-President George W. Bush acting on his own without going to Congress. Obama said he doesn't have "a green light" to act as he chooses.
"I'm bound by the Constitution. I'm bound by separation of powers. There's some things we can't do," he said at a news conference tied to a major U.S.-Africa summit. "Congress has the power of the purse, for example."
"I would love to fund a large infrastructure proposal right now that would put millions of people to work and boost our GDP. We know we've got roads, and bridges and airports and electrical grids that need to be rebuilt, but without the cooperation of Congress, what I can do is speed up permitting process, for example. I can make sure we're working with the private sector to see if we can channel investment into much-needed projects," he continued.
"But ultimately, Congress has to pass a budget and authorize spending. So I don't have a green light."
But the president, who has made his "pen and phone" a central theme for this year, said that he will do whatever he can "wherever I have the legal authorities to make progress on behalf of middle-class Americans and folks working to get to the middle class, whether it's by making sure that federal contractors are paying a fair wage to their workers, making sure that women have the opportunity to make sure that they are getting paid the same as men for doing the same job, where I have the capacity to, you know, expand some of the student loan programs that we have already put in place so that repayments are a little more affordable for college graduates, I'm going to seize those opportunities."
Obama says his preference is to work with the divided House and Senate, noting that Congress can do more and its actions will last longer than an executive order.
On immigration, given Congress's dysfunction, "what I can do is, you know, scour our authorities to try to make progress. And we're going to make sure that every time we take one of these steps that we are working within the confines of my executive power.
"But I promise you, the American people don't want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done."
Obama was also asked if he had the authority to grant work permits to people in the United States illegally.
He answered instead about having the authority to prioritize resources at the border.
Congressional Republicans, of course, have long railed against the presidents executive actions, and the House voted to sue the president over his lack of enforcement of the Affordable Care Act — specifically the employer mandate. The House also voted to prohibit the president from continuing his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for young immigrants brought here illegally as children or to expand it, as he is considering, to millions of additional illegal immigrants.
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