By Edward-Isaac Dovere
And he's used the executive authority tactic before, including last summer's controversial move to cut deportations for younger illegal immigrants and the mental health focus he announced as part of his gun control agenda after the Newtown massacre.
But administration officials and advisers say what's ahead will be more extensive and frequent than previous efforts, and the White House is on the hunt for anything that can move without congressional approval, including encouraging efforts like Attorney General Eric Holder's lawsuits to find new avenues of enforcement in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision on the Voting Rights Act last month.
He's even started soliciting suggestions for where to move next. Bass and other CBC members asked him to change the Medicaid process in territories to base allocations on income level, to repeal the Bush minimum wage federal contractor policies and to address child welfare. The CAPAC members also offered suggestions like changing the federal government's process of recognizing native Hawaiians.
Obama told them he was open to all of them, and said his staff is working on others in the model of the new emission standards he announced as part of his climate agenda last month.
Eventually, executive actions and orders will be unveiled as part of the economic agenda Obama began hinting at in his speeches last week, addressing things like mortgage refinancing and restructuring -- which is about as extensive as the White House expects things to get, even as they talk of welcoming negotiations with Republicans over the debt ceiling. And get ready, he's told people, for a whole lot more recess appointments if Republicans start blocking his nominees again.
Executive actions are a familiar move for second-term presidents, and one that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush came to know well: rules and regulations can have deep and wide impact, and they come without all the messiness of Capitol Hill.
And much to the excitement of congressional Democrats, Obama's regulatory push is helping fuel a combative attitude to those that will complain he's going too far with the new approach. He will need that energy to keep Democrats motivated and help block any Republican efforts to reverse or undo his latest moves.
"Give me a break -- what is he supposed to do?" Bass said. "He didn't express any concern."
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said that Obama's executive strategy isn't just a power-grab, but clearly headed for failure. Republicans can try to block or reverse some of what Obama does through the appropriations process, and lawmakers are already putting forward bills to limit executive authority on regulations and Environmental Protection Agency directives.
"The president won't be able to "go around' the U.S. Constitution, which requires him to work with the Congress that the American people elected," Steel said. "He should not -- and, I expect, cannot -- impose job-killing policies like a national energy tax or more Washington red tape by fiat."
White House aides and Obama advisers insist they're just dealing with the reality that Republicans in the House and Senate have created --and that the president's not going to "sit around and twiddle my thumbs," as he told the New York Times over the weekend.
Obama told Times reporters that in his view, the people who'll complain that his strategy is seizing power lack the grasp of the presidency that he and other constitutional lawyers have, dismissing them as predictable and irrational, since "some of those folks think I usurp my authority by having the gall to win the presidency."
The revamped strategy comes as Obama has gotten increasingly frustrated by having to keep himself in a box on immigration reform, not speaking out even as progress stalls in the House.
"He's quite aware that sometimes he can be a polarizing figure," Chu said, somewhat sardonically.
But immigration's also a perfect example, Democrats say, of the problem with the White House's approach to Congress. For all Obama's insistence that he's interested in trying to find a way through, they're not getting the behind-the-scenes maneuvering or even centralized strategy that could help make that happen.
"They don't have a war room. I don't get what the plan is," said one House Democrat who met recently with the president, expressing frustration with an approach that's being seen within the Democratic caucus as hands-off to the point of apathy. "Be the quarterback, tell me the positions, give me the playbook. "Here's how we're going to score, here's how we're going to get a win.'"
"It's got to be tough," said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), noting that part of the conversation he had when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with the president was that Obama's public speeches about immigration reform have been helpful in in calling attention to the issue. "You get elected to a second term to be the President of the United States and don't get to call the shots -- especially in something as critical to your legacy as this could be."