Immigration: Obama unloads on House Republicans, warning he’ll act on his own

President Obama spoke about the US-Mexico border crisis a day after the Republican-led House descended into chaos as it tried unsuccessfully to pass immigration legislation.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
President Barack Obama speaks various topics including immigration reform and the House of Representatives, Friday, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.

President Obama unloaded on House Republicans Friday, accusing them of trying to pass “the most extreme and unworkable versions” of a border-crisis bill just to send a message as they prepared to leave for August recess.

“They’re not even trying to actually solve the problem,” Mr. Obama said in a hastily arranged news conference at the White House.

It was a golden political moment for Obama, who is fighting low job approval ratings and a thin record of accomplishment of late. On Thursday, the Republican-led House descended into chaos as it tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation to fund measures aimed at addressing the crisis of child migrants from Central America flooding into the United States.

And in a moment of delicious irony for Obama, Republicans suggested the president act on his own to secure US borders and return the children home quickly. The day before, the House had voted to authorize a lawsuit against Obama for abusing his executive power.

Republicans put out a list of actions they believe the president could take immediately to address the border crisis. But Obama couldn’t resist the easy argument that his political nemeses were being inconsistent – saying he would indeed act alone after they leave town. The Senate left town Thursday, meaning anything the House passed on Friday would languish during the summer recess.

“While they’re out on vacation, I’m going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge, with or without Congress,” Obama said.

Money to address the humanitarian crisis at the border has run out, the president said, so he will reallocate resources to meet the needs. Those include housing the children and bringing in immigration judges to process their cases.

Obama’s original proposal for supplemental funding totaled $3.7 billion. Republicans countered with a stripped-down version at $659 million, but that effort fell apart Thursday amid acrimony within the GOP. On Friday, Obama blasted Republicans for not coming up with legislation he could sign, despite widespread agreement that the issue is a priority.

“This is a message bill that they couldn’t quite pull off yesterday, so they made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today, just so they can check a box before they’re leaving town for a month,” Obama said.

The president himself leaves for vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., on Aug. 9.

Obama began his news conference by touting the jobs numbers released by the Labor Department Friday morning. July was the sixth straight month with more than 200,000 jobs created, the first time that has happened since 1997, Obama noted.

But when he took questions, reporters pursued other topics, in a news-filled day. On Gaza, he defended the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a workable cease-fire between Palestinians and Israelis. Friday’s cease-fire collapsed almost immediately, as two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third abducted.

Secretary Kerry “has endured on many occasions really unfair criticism simply to try to get to the point where the killing stops and the underlying issues about Israel’s security but also the concerns of Palestinians in Gaza can be addressed,” Obama said.

Obama also defended John Brennan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, amid controversy over CIA snooping into computers used by Senate staffers preparing a report on interrogation practices. Mr. Brennan has since apologized to leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"I have full confidence in John Brennan," Obama said.

The president also condemned the interrogation techniques used after 9/11.

“We tortured some folks,” he said, calling it “contrary to our values.” Still, he spoke of the pressure that law enforcement and national security personnel faced in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks.

“It is important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had,” Obama said.

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