President Obama says U.S. can’t control global agenda, defends his hard work

The Debrief An occasional series offering a reporter’s insights

During a news conference Friday, President Obama addressed the growing border crisis, the conflict between Israel and Gaza and other topics. Here are highlights of his remarks in two minutes. (The Washington Post)

Zachary A. Goldfarb

As he moved to wrap up his impromptu news conference Friday afternoon, President Obama pleaded with the public to remember how much he’s accomplished.

“In my first term, if I had a press conference like this, typically everybody would want to ask about the economy and how come jobs weren’t being created and how come the housing market’s still bad and, you know, why isn’t it working?” he said, speaking on a day when it was announced that 209,000 jobs were created in July. “And, well, you know what? What we did worked, and the economy’s better.”

Obama’s frustration is understandable: Republicans refuse to cooperate with him on almost anything, including urgent crises like managing the thousands of migrant children at the border. Russian President Vladi­mir Putin ignores his threats on Ukraine. A massive investment in Israeli-Palestinian peace by his administration has collapsed in violent, unending hostilities.

The limits of his presidency have become one of the dominant themes of his second term. He’s now trying to shatter that perception, arguing that neither the nation nor the presidency was endowed with the power to control events around the world. And he insisted he still retained power to make a difference.

“This is a common theme that folks bring up,” Obama said, in response to a question about whether the United States has lost its global influence under him. “Apparently people have forgotten that America, as the most powerful country on earth, still does not control everything around the world. And so, you know, our diplomatic efforts often take time.”

The president noted that in Eastern Europe, the United States is doing what it can do, aiding the Ukrainians and sanctioning Russia, but “we can’t control how Mr. Putin thinks.”

In the Middle East, he affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense while calling for more efforts to protect Palestinians in Gaza. But with the conflict escalating, he also pointed out that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for decades.

“I don’t think at any point was there a suggestion somehow that America didn’t have influence just because we weren’t able to finalize an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal,” he said.

Obama said he is always asking himself what more he could do to resolve these and other conflicts. But he suggested that he’s concluded that he’s doing pretty much all he can.

Turning to the domestic front, Obama expressed exasperation with the fact that Republicans Wednesday authorized a lawsuit against him for abusing his executive power and then told him just days later to use his presidential authorities to address the crisis at the border.

“I’m going to have to act alone because we don’t have enough resources,” he said. “We are going to have to reallocate resources in order to just make sure that some of the basic functions that have to take place down there, whether it’s making sure that these children are properly housed or making sure that we’ve got enough immigration judges to process their cases.”

While Obama has had no success in convincing Congress to pass even the most basic immigration legislation, he is now planning to take more direct action on his own.

Obama is preparing to announce new measures that would potentially allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States without fear of deportation, after Congress refused to pick up the legislation.

To those who would complain that Obama hasn’t worked hard enough to enlist Congress’s support, Obama sounded incredulous.

“There’s no doubt that I can always do better on everything, including, you know, making additional calls to Speaker [John] Boehner and, you know, having more conversations with some of the House Republican leadership,” he said. “But in the end, the challenge I have right now is that they are not able to act even on what they say their priorities are. And they’re not able to work and compromise even with Senate Republicans on certain issues.”

Zachary A. Goldfarb is a staff writer covering the White House, focusing on President Obama’s economic, financial and fiscal policy.
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