RANGOON, Burma — President Obama on Friday refused to change his plans to overhaul the immigration system through executive action even if the move sets up a showdown with newly empowered congressional Republicans who have vowed to fight him.
“They have the ability to fix the system. What they don’t have the ability to do is expect me to stand by with a broken system in perpetuity,” Obama said during a news conference here, after he met with Burmese opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi midway through his weeklong Asia trip. “This is something that needs to be done. It’s way overdue. We’ve been talking about it for 10 years now and it’s been consistently stalled.”
After legislative reform collapsed in Congress last summer, Obama has been weighing actions that would defer the deportations of up to 6 million of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom would be eligible to get a work permit. The announcement could come as early as next week.
Republicans have denounced such a move, calling it unlawful, and said they would seek ways to block the president from enacting such a system.
The decision sets up the first major showdown since the GOP took control of the Senate for the first time since 2007. It’s likely to provoke an explosive political fight at a time that Obama and lawmakers have acknowledged voter frustration with Washington’s inaction.
But Obama said he would not back off his leading priorities even if it threatened to upset his rivals. Of mounting GOP criticism of the climate deal the administration announced with China this week, Obama called the agreement historic and said it would force China to reduce carbon emissions for the first time.
“Why would anybody be against that?” Obama said. “It sounds like the right thing to do to me.”
Although Obama had met with Suu Kyi to discuss the progress of Burma’s political reforms, which human rights advocates have said is faltering, the president was unable to escape questions over the domestic political debate over his vow to assert his executive authority to advance his agenda.
But Obama rejected the notion, put forward by a reporter, that his actions risked provoking Republicans and making it more difficult to find compromises on other matters where they are more aligned, including potentially on trade and tax reform.
“The fact that I disagree or Republicans disagree with me on a certain set of issues doesn’t preclude us working on areas where we do agree,” he said. “One thing that’s going to be important for us to have a successful partnership the next couple of years is not making disagreements on a single issue suddenly a deal-breaker on every issue. Democracies could never work that way.”