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Behind Closed Doors, Obama Crafts Executive Actions


Aug 18, 2014

When President Obama announced in June that he planned to bypass congressional gridlock and overhaul the nation’s immigration system on his own, he did so in a most public way: a speech in the White House Rose Garden.

Since then, the process of drafting what will likely be the only significant immigration changes of his presidency — and his most consequential use of executive power — has been conducted almost entirely behind closed doors, where lobbyists and interest groups invited to the White House are making their case out of public view.

Mr. Obama’s increasingly expansive appetite for the use of unilateral action on issues including immigration, tax policy and gay rights has emboldened activists and businesses to flock to the administration with their policy wish lists. It also has opened the president, already facing charges of executive overreach, to criticism that he is presiding over opaque policy-making, with the potential to reward political backers at the expense of other interests, including some on the losing side who are threatening to sue.

“We look at what they’ve been doing with executive action and are deeply concerned, and have focused a lot of our energies on how we can roll back these things,” said Geoff Burr, the vice president of federal affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, whose member companies do 60 percent of federal construction jobs.

Mr. Burr said an executive order issued by Mr. Obama last month that would block companies with a history of workplace violations from receiving federal contracts had prompted his group to contemplate “the virtues of a litigation strategy.”

White House officials say Mr. Obama has been inclusive as he looks to wield his authority, reaching out to an array of lawmakers, experts and business leaders for a wide range of perspectives to inform his plans for executive actions. Since the president first announced his intention to use his “pen and phone” to advance his agenda during his State of the Union address in January, White House officials have held weekly meetings to compile ideas from inside and outside the administration.

In some cases, the public has gotten a glimpse of the process, such as during a summit meeting on working families in June. More often, though, the talks have occurred behind the scenes. Administration officials have convened more than 20 so-called listening sessions this summer alone on executive options for revising immigration policy, a White House official said, declining to discuss the sessions in detail because the conversations were private.

“The president has been clear that he will use all of the tools at his disposal, working with Congress where they are willing but also taking action on his own where they aren’t, to expand opportunity for all Americans and help more families share in our economy’s continued progress,” said Jennifer Friedman, a White House spokeswoman. “As part of this process, the administration has engaged a wide range of stakeholders and has solicited input from groups and individuals representing a diverse set of views.”

Activists and business groups that stand to gain from the moves are eagerly providing the White House with their side of the case. “We’ve been talking to them about what we believe they can do while we wait for Congress to act,” said Scott Corley, a lobbyist for Compete America, a coalition of Silicon Valley companies seeking relief for foreign-born technology workers. “We’ve looked at where the legal authority exists, and we’ve found lots of ways in which the administration can move forward.”

On a host of issues, the list of requests is growing. Technology companies would like Mr. Obama to provide more visas for their workers, or at least more flexibility for them and their families as they await green cards for permanent residency. Consumer groups and organized labor want the Treasury Department to act on its own to limit financial incentives for companies that move overseas for tax breaks and stop so-called inversions. Democratic lawmakers are joining in as well, asking the president to act on his own on their pet issues. - To Read More Articles from The New York Times, Please click here

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