Just this week, House Speaker John Boehner accused Obama of “aggressive unilateralism” and announced he would seek a vote in the Republican-controlled House to authorize an election-year lawsuit asserting that Obama has failed to carry out the laws passed by Congress.
The list of grievances against Obama range from his administration’s 2011 decision not to argue in favor of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court to his decision to allow certain immigrants who entered the country illegally as children to obtain work permits.
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Obama has readily embraced a strategy of acting on his own to pursue certain policies. Faced with Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage, he signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to increase it to $10.10 an hour. He has instructed his administration to prepare an executive order that prevents federal contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers. He also has put in motion new carbon limits for new power plants.
Moreover, Obama has been under pressure from immigration activists to cut back on deportations of immigrants illegally in the United States. He has ordered a review of administration deportation practices and has indicated he could take executive action to reduce them if the House, as is increasingly likely, does not act on an immigration overhaul this summer.
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Boehner’s lawsuit threat seemed calculated to coincide with the end of the court’s term when two executive power decisions were pending and ahead of any immigration decision by Obama. With the recess appointment ruling now announced, the only remaining one will decide whether the government can force companies to provide insurance that covers certain methods of contraception that the companies say violate their religious beliefs.
Obama on Friday struck a defiant note, vowing not to back away from acting alone.
“I’m not going to let gridlock and inaction and willful indifference and greed threaten the hard work of families like yours,” he told a crowd in Minneapolis. “We can’t afford to wait for Congress right now. That’s why I’m going ahead and moving ahead without them wherever I can.”
“I’m not sure which of the things I’ve done they find most offensive,” Obama added. “But they’ve decided they’re going to sue me for doing my job.”
Even though he ended up on the losing end of the court’s decision Thursday, Obama still effectively won what he initially sought. The Democratic-controlled Senate eventually weakened the ability of Republicans to block Obama’s nominations by doing away with procedural obstacles that required 60 out of 100 votes to overcome.
As a result, his appointments to the NLRB have since been confirmed, as was his appointment of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, another recess appointment made during the same 2012 Senate break.
“He’s no worse off and the presidency is no worse off,” said former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, who recently returned to private practice. “In fact, it’s better because now future presidents have clarity that the Supreme Court has definitively spoken that intra-session recess appointments are constitutionally valid.”