Obama sets stage for executive action on border

August 1, 2014

President Obama set the stage for taking executive action to address the influx of women and children on the southern border. His remarks came the day after border security legislation was pulled from the House floor and as legislators appeared poised to leave Washington without a deal, even as they scrambled to cobble together an alternate bill that would do little to solve the crisis quickly.

Obama said that Republicans are currently trying to pass the "most extreme and unworkable portions" of a bill that they know will go "nowhere," except to achieve a presidential veto.

"I'm going to have to act alone," Obama said, and resources have gone dry with the lack of legislation. "We've run out of money."

Obama continued his recent habit of castigating congressional Republicans, saying the party is not "actually trying to solve the problem," but are attempting to pass a bill so they can "check a box before they leave town for a month."

"They can't even pass their own version of the bill," Obama said.

Obama also continued to chide Congress for not passing legislation that he said would help the middle class, including raising the minimum wage.

Obama said the economy is better because of policies his administration pushed through, citing today's numbers — "what we did worked," he said, and the challenges are "nowhere near as daunting" as they were. Things could have improved even more if Republicans would pass certain pieces of legislation, he said.

"Congress," Obama said, "should stop standing in the way" of the nation's success.

President Obama delivers remarks and takes reporters' questions in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Aug. 1. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a wide-ranging news conference, Obama touched on the situation in Israel, a conversation he had Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, an upcoming summit of African leaders, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and CIA Director John Brennan.

Addressing an internal CIA inquiry into how CIA investigators improperly searched computers that Senate investigators used for years to look into harsh interrogation methods the agency used against terrorism suspects, Obama said some of those methods amounted to torture.

"We tortured some folks," Obama said. "We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened."

Obama said people must recall the fear that gripped the country after Sept. 11, 2001, when it was unclear whether more attacks were imminent. He also said it is important not to feel "too sanctimonious in retrospect" because many people were working under "enormous pressure" and were "real patriots."

"But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong," Obama said.

In 2009, Obama banned the use of controversial CIA interrogation techniques and signed executive orders to end what he had called torture.

Obama said he has full confidence in Brennan, who apologized to lawmakers.

Obama also touched on the situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip, where a 72-hour cease-fire collapsed and an Israeli soldier was captured and two others were reported killed. A Hamas official said another group carried out the abduction. Obama has called for the immediate release of the soldier.

Obama said it is "going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together," and that after the soldiers were captured and killed, it is "hard for the Israelis to feel confident that a cease-fire can be honored."

Obama said that he wants "to see everything done to make sure Palestinian civilians are not killed," and said it is "heartbreaking" to see the civilian toll. At least 1,422 Palestinians have been killed.

"I think there’s a lot of anger and a lot of despair and that’s a volatile mix, but we have to keep trying" to push toward a cease-fire, Obama said.

Obama said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday and reiterated his concerns about Russia arming separatists in Ukraine and his desire to see a diplomatic end to the situation.

Obama said that while the United States is the most powerful country on Earth, it does not control everything.

"There are a lot of conflicts that America doesn’t resolve," he said.

Ahead of a summit of African leaders, Obama said the risk is "marginal" to "infinitesimal" that Ebola could spread with someone carrying the virus coming to Washington, and that there will be officials screening at airports. He said Ebola is something the U.S. is "taking very seriously" and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to send staff and resources to the affected countries.

Leaders from two countries are considering skipping the summit because of the outbreak.

Obama gave a rare presidential warning about the summit, reminding Washington residents and people who work in the District that the summit will snarl traffic next week.

He also jokingly chided the press corps for not asking him what he plans to do for his birthday, which is Monday.

"What happened to the birthday thing?" he asked.

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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