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Obama immigration order: Does 'audacity of hope' mean unchecked presidential power?

President Obama’s order deferring deportation of up to 800,000 young illegal immigrants shows a president dealing with a recalcitrant Congress by ignoring it. Is he reshaping the power of the presidency?

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A White House spokesman expanded on the President’s thinking in an interview with Politico.

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When Congress blocks Obama’s agenda, the unnamed spokesman said, “we look to pursue other appropriate means of achieving our policy goals. Sometimes this makes for less than ideal policy situations – such as the action we took on immigration – but the President isn’t going to be stonewalled by politics.”

On the immigration issue, it’s still unclear whether the order overreaches the president’s constitutional prerogative. DHS said the order does not guarantee a path to citizenship or suggest amnesty, but is merely an expansion of constitutionally appropriate prosecutorial discretion over individual cases.

But many headlines highlighted another takeaway: That the President somehow has the power to actually order ICE agents to stand down from prosecuting their jobs, en masse. Critics say that Obama committed a constitutional fault if he bypassed Congress to create a new program where people can apply for a government benefit.

But even assuming that the order is legal, even progressive legal experts say Obama’s modus operandi has begun to undercut the basic balance of power in Washington.

His moves “fit a disturbing pattern of expansion of executive power,” constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, who usually sides with progressive ideals, tells Politico. “This is a President who is now functioning as a super legislator” who is “effectively negating parts of the criminal code because he disagrees with them. That does go beyond the pale.”

“Obama … has tried best, through hook or crook, to change America in ways that simple were not possible through legislative or even judicial action,” adds Victor Davis Hanson, a former classics professor and currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution, in a piece for the conservative National Review.

“Give the President credit,” he writes. “He has thrown down the gauntlet and essentially boasted: This is my view of the way the new America should work – and if you don’t like it, try stopping me in November.”

It’s a message that many of the President’s supporters, some of whom have grown apathetic amid poor economic news and concerns about the overall direction of the country, have been waiting to hear, some political observers say.

“Obama came into office saying, ‘I’m going to work with Congress, I’m going to change this town,’ and he held up that hope for way too long, according to his supporters,” says Matt Barretto, a political science professor at the University of Washington, in Seattle. “Now you’re starting to see him realize that, ‘The things I campaigned on, I might have to do some of that myself.’ I think it means we’ll see more bold steps from the President.”

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