WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, vowing not to delay his agenda as Republicans assume power of both chambers of Congress, said he will seek “lawful” executive actions on immigration before January.
“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of the immigration system,” Obama told reporters Wednesday at a White House news conference.
The president’s pledge on immigration sets up a confrontation with the more powerful Republican representation in Congress. Obama had postponed immigration action until after Tuesday’s election in spite of his promises earlier this year to act sooner. The delay cost him support of Latino voters, according to polls.
Obama spoke minutes after incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, called on the president to change course, and to abandon plans for executive action.
“Choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration would be a big mistake,” McConnell told reporters Wednesday in Kentucky. “It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own.'”
Obama said that while he’d welcome immigration legislation, he’s not going to wait for that. If Congress passes legislation he can sign, Obama said that would supersede his presidential executive actions.
Overhauling the immigration system has been on Obama’s priority list throughout his administration. A surge of unaccompanied children crossing the southwest border into the U.S. earlier this year brought attention to the issue, with Obama shifting money to the border to increase enforcement and care for children who made it into the U.S.
Before the election, Obama was interrupted at campaign rallies across the U.S. by hecklers who said they were frustrated he hasn’t acted sooner. United We Dream, a group supporting changes in immigration law, Wednesday blamed Obama for Democrat losses in Tuesday’s elections.
“The president’s lack of action on immigration cost Mark Udall his re-election, and the Senate race in New Hampshire proved that running an anti-immigrant campaign will not work for Republicans moving forward,” Cristina Jimenez, the group’s managing director, said Wednesday in an emailed statement.