Topics: Barack Obama

Obama on unilateral action: Lawyers? I don't need lawyers

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Beltway Confidential,Byron York,Barack Obama,Analysis

In an interview after his speech Wednesday in Galesburg, Illinois, President Obama was asked if he consulted White House lawyers before unilaterally delaying the employer mandate in Obamacare. Since Congress, in the Affordable Care Act, specified that the mandate is go to into effect at the start of next year, reporters from the New York Times asked if the president investigated whether he had the legal authority to put it off without going through Congress.

Obama didn’t exactly answer the question. But judging from what he said, his answer was: No, I didn’t consult White House lawyers because I know a lot more about the Constitution than the Republicans who are complaining about it. And besides, they don’t think I’m legitimately the president, anyway.

“People questioned your legal and constitutional authority to do that unilaterally — to delay the employer mandate,” asked the Times’ Jackie Calmes. “Did you consult with your lawyer?”

“Jackie, if you heard me on stage today, what I said was that I will seize any opportunity I can find to work with Congress to strengthen the middle class, improve their prospects, improve their security,” Obama began.

“No, but specifically — ” Calmes interjected.

“But where Congress is unwilling to act,” Obama continued, “I will take whatever administrative steps that I can in order to do right by the American people.”

At that point, Obama explained that if Congress doesn’t like what he’s done, then lawmakers can try to do something about it. “I’m not concerned about their opinions,” the president said. “Very few of them, by the way, are lawyers, much less constitutional lawyers.” And some Republicans “think I usurp my authority by having the gall to win the presidency.”

This is Obama’s complete answer:

And if Congress thinks that what I’ve done is inappropriate or wrong in some fashion, they’re free to make that case. But there’s not an action that I take that you don’t have some folks in Congress who say that I’m usurping my authority. Some of those folks think I usurp my authority by having the gall to win the presidency. And I don’t think that’s a secret. But ultimately, I’m not concerned about their opinions — very few of them, by the way, are lawyers, much less constitutional lawyers.

I am concerned about the folks who I spoke to today who are working really hard, are trying to figure out how they can send their kids to college, are trying to make sure that they can save for their retirement. And if I can take steps on their behalf, then I’m going to do so. And I would hope that more and more of Congress will say, you know what, since that’s our primary focus, we’re willing to work with you to advance those ideals. But I’m not just going to sit back if the only message from some of these folks is no on everything, and sit around and twiddle my thumbs for the next 1,200 days.

A moment earlier, Obama likened his move to “the kind of routine modifications or tweaks to a large program that’s starting off.” Criticism of his exercise of executive authority in this matter, he suggested, is more the result of a “frenzy” among Republicans than anything he has done.

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