At the conclusion of the White House’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit last night, President Obama held a press conference at which he addressed a number of issues, but the thing that really stood out was the absurd framing of Jonathan Karl’s question about the President’s use of executive authority. The ABC News Chief White House Correspondent gave President Obama two choices of how his use of executive orders are viewed, neither of them good. The best part of this clip is President Obama’s knowing grin as Karl finishes his question:
“Does it bother you more to be accused of being an imperial President, pushing those limits, or to be accused of being a do-nothing President who couldn’t get anything done because he faced a dysfunctional Congress?”
Granted, this question is coming from a reporter who is known for asking bullshit questions (even the President has noticed this) and fabricating reporting against him, but the narrative that everything Republicans do is Obama’s fault has firmly taken root in the mainstream media, and has even metastasized into the supposedly liberal media. This isn’t a “When did you stop beating your wife?” question, it’s a “How hard does beating your wife get you; raging hard, or call-your-doctor hard?” question.
It also had the added benefit of the out-of-context “Gotcha!” quote, because then-Senator Obama was speaking about the specific issue of civil liberties. He was not making a broad statement about the use of executive orders.
The President delivered a characteristically measured, Bill Bixby-esque response, and made some news (for careful listeners) with his response to Karl’s followup question, “Do you believe you have the power to grant work permits to those who are here illegally?”
“What I certainly recognize with respect to immigration reform — and I’ve said this in the past — is that we have a broken system; it’s under-resourced; and we’ve got to make choices in terms of how we allocate personnel and resources.
“So if I’m going to, for example, send more immigration judges down to the border to process some of these unaccompanied children that have arrived at the border, then that’s coming from someplace else, and we’re going to have to prioritize. That’s well within our authorities and prosecutorial discretion.
“My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law. And we already have a bipartisan law that would solve a whole bunch of these problems. Until that happens, I’m going to have to make choices. That’s what I was elected to do.”
People are having a tough time parsing that answer, even characterizing it as evasive, so let me translate it for you: “Yes.” What the President is doing here is laying out, step by step, the legal rationale for expanding deferred action, the same rationale that was used for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The reason he didn’t just say “yes” wasn’t for purposes of evasion, it’s because within that legal rationale, work permits aren’t the objective of the exercise, prosecutorial discretion is.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the President will expand deferred action, but he probably will, and so the question now is how broadly he will expand it, and how long Republicans will wait to impeach him over it.