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Obama to press jobs agenda with executive actions

January 14, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is ready to put an economic spotlight on his annual State of the Union address this month and is making a case that, even against a divided Congress, he can still be relevant to people struggling in the up-and-down recovery.

With two weeks left before his speech to Congress, Obama is showcasing how he can advance his economic agenda through his executive powers and his ability to coax action from important interest groups.

On Tuesday, Obama met with his Cabinet to discuss measures that can help the middle class. Later this month, he is convening CEOs at the White House to lay out plans for hiring the long-term unemployed.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Obama predicted that Congress will be busy this year debating a renewal of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and an immigration overhaul. But he said he wants his Cabinet also to focus on executive actions that don’t require legislation.

“The president will use every tool he can to create new jobs and opportunities for the middle class,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer writes in an email to be sent Tuesday to the White House list of supporters. “He will be looking for areas of bipartisan cooperation, but he won’t be waiting on Congress to act.”

The approach has strong echoes of Obama’s 2012 “We can’t wait” campaign that sought to depict him as an impatient executive in the face of inaction from Congress, particularly the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

But the approach also highlights the limits of the president’s ability to work with Congress.

Only through legislation can Obama obtain some of the most ambitious items on his economic agenda — from a higher minimum wage to universal preschool to an overhaul of immigration laws. They are three items in his 2013 State of the Union that will make a return appearance in this year’s speech.

If Republicans in Congress are unreceptive, he will have to settle for more incremental and narrower solutions that don’t necessarily have the staying power and the force of law.

Clinton-era White House chief of staff John Podesta, who is joining the White House as a senior adviser, has long pressed Obama to use his executive authority to get around congressional opposition.

Podesta co-authored a report in 2010 for the liberal Center for American Progress that argued that presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton enacted aspects of their agendas even in the face of a divided Congress.

“Congressional gridlock does not mean the federal government stands still,” Podesta wrote. “This administration has a similar opportunity to use available executive authorities while also working with Congress where possible.”