There was an unscripted moment for President Barack Obama yesterday that might make Justice Department lawyers defending the recent unilateral changes to immigration laws a bit uneasy. The President was faced with an understandably annoying problem of hecklers who interrupted his speech demanding an end to deportations of anyone. The President responded with a clearly justified admonishment that they should let him speak, but he added in obvious frustration “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law.” That is what the Administration lawyers have striven to deny. They are insisting that this was not a change in law (which is a legislative act) but the exercise of discretion allowed under the law.
I have to say that I have always admired how the President handled such hecklers. He stay calm and respectful despite dealing with some pretty rude characters in the past.
President Obama admonished the protesters initially by saying “Don’t just start yelling, young ladies . . . I let you holler . . . You’ve got to listen to me too.” He then said “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law.”
His other statement was more in line with the legal position of the Administration: “Although I disagree with some of your characterizations, it does not make much sense to yell at me right now, when we are making changes.”
Here is the encounter:
The statement comes after another statement earlier where the President seemed to draw an uncertain line over when he is entitled to act unilaterally and when he is not. The statement came in an excellent interview by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos where President Obama made some strong points. However, Stephanopoulos asked Obama: “How do you respond to the argument, a future president comes in, wants lower taxes. Doesn’t happen. Congress won’t do it — he says I’m not going to prosecute those who don’t pay capital gains tax.” When the President did not address that question, Stephanopoulos pressed again “So you don’t think it’d be legitimate for a future president to make that argument?” The President responded “With respect to taxes? Absolutely not.” Despite the President’s skills in argument, the separation-of-powers question is how that line is drawn from taxes to health care to online gambling to immigration etc.