Obama: No ‘Twiddling Thumbs’

President Barack Obama arrives to speak before signing an Executive Order titled "Fair Pay and Safe Workplace" in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 31, 2014.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama arrives to speak before signing an Executive Order titled “Fair Pay and Safe Workplace” in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 31, 2014.

Is this an imperial presidency?

President Barack Obama was asked about the stalemate on Capitol Hill and whether that has enabled him to embrace executive powers to their fullest.

“I never have a green light. I’m bound by the Constitution. I’m bound by separation of powers,” Obama said at a news conference this evening.

“My preference,” he said, “is to work with Congress. Not only can Congress do more, but it’s going to be longer-lasting.”

“What the American people expect is, that despite the disagreement between the parties, there should be movement forward on things we agree on,” he said, pledging to act to the extent that he can. “I promise you, the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get things done.”

This includes the so-called tax ”inversions”  enabling American companies to merge with foreign firms and take advantage of the foreign tax rate. “It’s not fair. It’s not right,” he said again today.  “We’re reviewing all of our options as usual… My preference would always be for us to go ahead and get something done in Congress.”

Obama spoke from the State Department at the close of a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that spotlighted $33 billion of investments in Africa and another $4 billion pledged by Non-Government Organizations for health care.

He was asked about the ebola epidemic in West Africa and the use of an experimental drug on two American health-care workers infected with ebola who returned to Atlanta from Africa for treatment.

“I think we’ve got to let the science guide us,” he said. It’s important to “nip wherever possible” any additional outbreaks and that see where treatment might address the afflicted. “I will continue to seek information about what we’re learning from these drugs going forward.”

Asked about the Russian troops amassed outside the Ukrainian border, and the possibility of the U.S. providing weaponry, he said, “Keep in mind the Russian army is a bigger army than the Ukrainian army.” The U.S. will continue to evaluate the support that Ukraine needs to defend itself, he said, “but the best thing we can for Ukraine is to get back on a political train.”

Asked if Israel’s use of military force in Gaza was justified, Obama said:  “I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities… Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it it is siting rockets” in civilian areas — as heart-breaking as the casualties in those areas have been.

At the same time, he said, “I am very glad we have achieved a temporary cease fire.”

“Long-term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the rest of the world,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to see a shift in opportunity for the people of Gaza. I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling in Gaza.”

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