President Obama’s no-Congress strategy
President Barack Obama is planning to bypass congressional Republicans with a surge of executive actions and orders on issues like voting rights, health care, job creation, the economy, climate change and immigration.
And this time, he really, really, really means it. Really.
“I have to figure out what I can do outside of Congress through executive actions,” Obama told the Congressional Black Caucus earlier this month, according to Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.).
“He’s very ready to use his executive powers whenever possible,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) who heard Obama discuss the new approach at a meeting of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus to the White House last week.
With the clock running on Obama’s time in office — he’s even started marking the number of days left in public speeches — the president is done caring about congressional Republicans calling him a dictator. Or calling him at all.
Obama can’t ignore Republicans forever. There’s no way for the president to avoid negotiations to get continuing resolutions to avoid a government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling — and depending how things go, rebuff GOP efforts to defund Obamacare and possibly a compromise on immigration reform. Chief of staff Denis McDonough’s functioning as an almost one-man legislative affairs office can’t do it all.
And he’s used the executive authority tactic before, including last summer’s controversial move to cut deportations for younger illegal immigrants and the mental health focus he announced as part of his gun control agenda after the Newtown massacre.
But administration officials and advisers say what’s ahead will be more extensive and frequent than previous efforts, and the White House is on the hunt for anything that can move without congressional approval, including encouraging efforts like Attorney General Eric Holder’s lawsuits to find new avenues of enforcement in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act last month.
He’s even started soliciting suggestions for where to move next. Bass and other CBC members asked him to change the Medicaid process in territories to base allocations on income level, to repeal the Bush minimum wage federal contractor policies and to address child welfare. The CAPAC members also offered suggestions like changing the federal government’s process of recognizing native Hawaiians.
Obama told them he was open to all of them, and said his staff is working on others in the model of the new emission standards he announced as part of his climate agenda last month.
Eventually, executive actions and orders will be unveiled as part of the economic agenda Obama began hinting at in his speeches last week, addressing things like mortgage refinancing and restructuring — which is about as extensive as the White House expects things to get, even as they talk of welcoming negotiations with Republicans over the debt ceiling. And get ready, he’s told people, for a whole lot more recess appointments if Republicans start blocking his nominees again.
Executive actions are a familiar move for second-term presidents, and one that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush came to know well: rules and regulations can have deep and wide impact, and they come without all the messiness of Capitol Hill.