President Obama may have raised expectations too high when he vowed last week to take unilateral action to get around Congress — since his speech he has been flooded with requests and complaints from some of his staunchest supporters wondering why he left their issues out of his executive to-do list.
Immigrant rights advocates say he should have extended his existing non-deportation policy to cover all illegal immigrants, while marijuana advocates said he could follow through on his recent statements on pot by unilaterally taking the drug off the strictest tier of controlled substances.
Gay rights groups said Mr. Obama could have taken the same steps for them that he did on the minimum wage, issuing an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against gays in the workplace.
Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, which advocates for young adult illegal immigrants, said Mr. Obama was picking and choosing, and said the groups involved have taken notice.
“It’s a lack of vision,” Mr. Vargas said. “He’s taking the easy ones — ‘OK, I’ll do unemployment benefits, OK, I’ll do some environmental [ones].’ But on major consequences of executive policy, he is backing down.”
In his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama laid out about a half-dozen areas where he said he wanted to see Congress act, but said if they didn’t, he could take interim steps on his own.
A key move was to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 an hour. He said he wants Congress to raise the national wage that high, but said in the meantime, he has the power to set rates for those companies that bid for federal work.
In the days since the speech, the White House has said the list Mr. Obama went through isn’t final, and that there could be others he adds in.
But there are some areas where the president has previously ruled out taking unilateral action, even where his supporters say he has the authority. The non-discrimination order for gay workers is one of those.
“The president believes that an Employment Non-Discrimination Act signed into law is the right way to go here, and we strongly support and put a lot of energy behind that effort,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
On immigration, the division between Mr. Obama and activists has been clear for months. They would like him to expand the non-deportation policy he issued last year for young adults, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to now include all illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama, though, has said he doesn’t believe he has the authority to go that far.
Activists say it’s the same excuse he used for the first three years of his presidency, when he wouldn’t issue the young adult policy. In the midst of his 2012 re-election campaign, when he was struggling to win Hispanics’ support, Mr. Obama had a change of heart and decided he did actually have the authority.
“The legal authority is there,” Mr. Vargas said. “It’s simply excuses.”
On marijuana, pot activists said the president tied himself in knots last week when he told CNN in an interview that it’s up to Congress to take the drug off the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances.