President Obama, according to an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, would tell friends to go to Sochi. He's interested in the marijuana "experiments" in Colorado and Washington. And he wants you to know that he doesn't want to have to act outside of Congress, but Congress needs to get it together.
The interview that aired Friday morning had other interesting tidbits — he refused to pick between Hillary-Biden in 2016 or Denver-Seattle on Sunday, for example — but it was his continued defense of executive action that's the most significant.
During his speech, Obama made clear what he'd been hinting at for a while: He would put into effect economic solutions that didn't need congressional action wherever possible — assuming that Congress itself wouldn't do so. He announced a minimum wage hike for federal workers during the speech, and on Wednesday followed up on another promise to create a new retirement savings system.
To Tapper, Obama seemed to (however sincerely) lament that it had come to this.
"All those things cumulatively are going to have an impact. Will we be able to have more of an impact if we get Congress to pass a minimum wage law … ? Absolutely. And that's why I'm going to keep on reaching out to them. But I'm not gonna wait for them."
House Republicans, he said, "have had difficulty rallying around any agenda, much less mine." So: "[W]hat I don't want is the American people to think that the only way for us to make big change is through legislation." That's the argument: Try Congress; if it doesn't work, there are other things that can be done. In the wake of the speech, Vice President Biden (rather optimistically) predicted that the White House and Congress would work together more.
Republicans in Congress have blanched. Earlier this week, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz suggested that Obama was acting "imperially." To Tapper, Obama, laughed off Cruz's statement: "I don't think that's very serious."
"I'm not going to make an apology for — if I can help middle class families and folks who are working hard to try to get into the middle class do a little better, than I'm going to do it."
Critics of that strategy point to data like that in a new report from Politico, outlining the extent to which Obama has used executive orders (a specific tool) and executive authority (the powers of the federal government) to make change.
Already, the president’s team has enacted 300 economically significant regulations, far more than Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan did in comparable periods. Some of those rules are driven by the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank banking reform, the two big laws Obama pushed through Congress early in his first term, when he had Democratic majorities in both houses. But there is far more.
For example: "When Congress wouldn’t support a climate change bill, the administration moved on its own to push the energy industry away from coal and toward green alternatives." And other rules: "Whether American guns can be sold abroad. How smokeless tobacco can be marketed. Which nonprofits can stage get-out-the-vote drives. What constitutes a single serving of potato chips."
The conflation of the two executive powers is a bit tricky. The graph at right shows how many executive orders each president since Hoover has issued per year of his presidency, via the American Presidency Project. Obama has issued fewer per year than anyone — and fewer overall as of January 20 than any president besides one-term George H. W. Bush. The administration has the power to make rules on a variety of topics through its agencies, which is where the smokeless tobacco and potato chips rules come in to play. But that's largely the government infrastructure doing its thing, like it or not.
The coal example cited is particularly applicable. During his 2013 State of the Union, Obama pledged the same thing on the climate that he's now done on the economy. Take action, Congress, he said, or I'll act myself. Congress didn't address carbon pollution, so Obama authorized the EPA to issue new rules on coal pollution. But that action was already mandated by the Supreme Court; it had been merely postponed by, first, President George W. Bush and then Obama himself. If anything, it's an example of Obama's retincence to act.
Obama and Tapper did talk about other things of broader interest, of course. Asked if he'd encourage friends to attend the Olympic Games in Sochi, Obama said, "I'd tell them that I believe Sochi is safe and that there are always some risks in these large international gatherings." He indicated that he believes marijuana laws are too strict, saying that "we're going to see what happens in the experiments in Colorado and Washington" but that "the Department of Justice under Eric Holder has said that we are going to continue to enforce federal laws."
But the point Obama made the most clearly was on his renewed willingness to work around that difficult House. He had to act, he insisted. "I can't wait. And the American people can't wait."