President Obama attempted to defend his unilateral action on immigration in two interviews last week, and in each case, reporters pressed him on why he had previously told them many times that he did not have the legal authority to act on his own. Caught in a clear flip-flop, the president’s rhetorical acrobatics were a sight to behold.
“[In a 2011 town hall] you told us, and I quote, ‘With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case,’” Univision’s Jorge Ramos pointed out, setting up his point: “That’s exactly what you did.” President Obama denied this, claiming, “I can run back the tape on your questions and some of the questions of that town hall, [and prove] the notion [I was responding to] was that we could just stop deportations, period[.]”
But the president doesn’t have to “run back the tape” – objective observers already have:
- “It’s clear from the interviews that the president was … [asked] about specific actions that ended deportations of a subset of illegal immigrants—precisely the type of action he” took. (The Washington Post, 11/18/14)
- “[T]he questions posed to Obama earlier were very specific. They asked the president whether he had the authority to do the very kinds of things he” did. (FactCheck.org, 11/18/14)
- “In fact, most of the questions that were posed to the president over the past several years were about the very thing” he announced. (The New York Times, 11/17/14)
In the second of the president’s interviews last week, a similar question was raised by Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart: “You said you didn’t have the authority to expand, for example, mitigation of deportations. Removing the issue of politics aside, what legally changed?” President Obama again attempted to rewrite history, saying, “What I think changed is that having done what we did with DACA, with the DREAM kids, my argument was not that we did not have some additional authority, my argument was that I did not have the authority to simply not deport.”
But his argument was that he did not have additional authority. On two separate occasions after his June 2012 announcement of DACA, President Obama said that he’d “done everything that I can on my own” (10/16/12) and “stretched our administrative flexibility as much as we can” (2/14/13).
Notably, the president used virtually the same phrase last week when Diaz-Balart asked him if he was considering “further executive actions” on immigration, in addition to the one he announced in November. No, President Obama indicated, “I asked the Office of Legal Counsel to give me their best ruling on how much legal authority I had. And we stretched as far as we could.”
As PolitiFact concluded regarding the first flip-flop, “Obama’s position has clearly changed. Whereas he used to say his ability to take action ended at deferring action on DREAMers, he now is saying there are at least some things he can do[.]” Last week – for the second time – the president claimed he’s reached the real limit of his legal authority. How long until he moves the goalposts again?
Also in last week’s Univision interview, President Obama asserted that his unilateral action “is of the same type of action that was taken by every Democratic and Republican president over the last 20, 30 years.”
“In fact,” The Washington Post editorialized, “it is increasingly clear that the sweeping magnitude of Mr. Obama’s order is unprecedented. … [T]he scale of Mr. Obama’s move goes far beyond anything his predecessors attempted.” The same paper’s Fact Checker had already awarded several Pinocchios to President Obama and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest for invoking President George H. W. Bush.
Amidst all these untruths last week, President Obama did let one truthful statement slip as he reprimanded Jorge Ramos for not letting him off the hook:
And those, like you sometimes, Jorge, who suggests that there are simple quick answers to these problems, I think …. when you present it in that way, it does a disservice, because it makes the assumption that the political process is one that can easily be moved around, depending on the will of one person, and that’s not how things work.
He’s right that our nation’s laws are not determined by a single ruler’s will – just as he was 22 times before – and that’s what makes his unilateral action on immigration so wrong – and the real disservice.