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Republicans said that at the very least, Mr. Obama should release the legal memos he is using to claim executive authority. Mr. Holder said he would consider making the memos public, but it might dampen the spirit of debate in the Justice Department.

He also said Mr. Obama isn’t breaking ground by turning to executive orders.

“He has made far less use of his executive power at this point in his administration than some of his predecessors. And he will only do so, as I indicated previously, where he is unable to work with Congress to do things together,” Mr. Holder said.

Mr. Obama issued 147 executive orders in his first term, fewer than George W. Bush (173), Bill Clinton (200), Ronald Reagan (213) and Richard Nixon (247), Dwight D. Eisenhower (266) and Harry S. Truman (504) in their first terms.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.