Stephen Dinan, Washington Times
President Obama’s repeated use of presidential powers is causing a tough problem—his own supporters now expect him to use it to achieve everything they want.
From immigration to the minimum wage, congressional Democrats and liberal activists this week urged Mr. Obama to declare an end run around Capitol Hill, assert executive authority and make as much progress as he can on the expansive agenda he laid out for his second term.
A day after Mr. Obama denounced income inequality, progressive lawmakers said he should take the lead by issuing an executive order requiring all federal contractors to pay workers more than the minimum wage. A dozen lawmakers and immigration activists held a news conference outside the Capitol on Thursday asking him to halt all deportations as a down payment on an eventual immigration bill.
“To not use his executive authority is not just unstrategic; it is cruel,” said Tania Unzueta, a strategist with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
On immigration, Mr. Obama raised expectations when, after years of denying he had such powers, he issued a policy last year saying he no longer would deport young illegal immigrants, the “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents and are considered the most sympathetic cases. He said he was using prosecutorial discretion.
More than two dozen House Democrats have written a letter to Mr. Obama saying he can expand that authority to encompass nearly all 11 million illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama’s base, though, wants to see more—as he learned last week on a trip to the West Coast, where he was met with hecklers.
One man interrupted the president’s immigration speech to urge him to halt all deportations, just as he did for the Dreamers. Mr. Obama said he didn’t have that much power.
Hours later, as Mr. Obama ticked off his agenda at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, a man in the audience repeatedly called out “executive order.”
“Somebody keeps on yelling, ‘Executive order.’ Well, I’m going to actually pause on this issue because a lot of people have been saying this lately on every problem, which is, just sign an executive order, and we can pretty much do anything and basically nullify Congress,” the president said—immediately drawing approving applause from his audience.
“Wait, wait, wait, before everybody starts clapping—that’s not how it works,” Mr. Obama said. “We got this Constitution. We got this whole thing about separation of powers and branches.”
Presidents argue that they are allowed to interpret the laws, and President George W. Bush regularly issued signing statements laying out how he saw the laws Congress passed.
Mr. Obama criticized that practice and hasn’t issued anywhere near the number of signing statements, but analysts said he is still stretching the limits of his power by usurping Congress and the courts.
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who led Thursday’s rally outside the Capitol, said while it’s probably true the president can’t halt all deportations, he can take some more steps, such as not applying the full 10-year bar of admission to those who enter the country illegally.
“He’s probably legally correct saying, ‘I can’t do that, are you crazy?’ But OK, what are the options?” he said. “The first time we approached him on the Dreamers: ‘No, can’t do that, I don’t have the power.’ We think there are options that do extend the power.”