U.S. President Barack Obama stands at his desk in the Oval Office, August 4, 2014.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty

Obama: Americans don’t want me ‘twiddling my thumbs’

Updated

President Obama strongly defended his use of executive authority during a press conference Wednesday evening, saying the public is on his side in his battle with Republicans in Congress.

“The American people don’t want me standing around twiddling my thumbs waiting for Congress to do something,” he said following the conclusion of a major summit of African leaders in Washington. “I’m going to seize those opportunities, and I think that’s what the American people expect me to do.”

msnbc Live, 8/6/14, 7:16 PM ET

Obama speaks at US-Africa Leaders Summit

President Obama delivered remarks on the final day of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., where he emphasized the importance of maintaining strong, positive relations between the U.S. and nations in Africa.
Even so, Obama said he did not have “a green light,” being constrained by the Constitution and Congress’s power of the purse, and that he would prefer to work with Congress whenever possible. But as long as Congress isn’t working with him, he continued, he’s going to actively pursue what he can within his administrative powers.  

“In the face of that kind of dysfunction, what I can do is scour our authorities to try to make progress,” he said.

Asked specifically if he believed his authority extended to providing work permits to undocumented immigrants, the president said he was still reviewing that issue and will make a decision later.

Obama also pointed to a limit on his authority to deal with “inversions,” the practice by which American corporations legally incorporate themselves abroad in order to reduce their tax bill. “We can’t solve the entire problem administratively, but we’re going to see what we can do,” he said, adding that he hoped Congress would act to close the loophole. 

All In with Chris Hayes, 8/6/14, 8:00 PM ET

President Obama meets the press

In a wide-ranging news conference, Pres. Barack Obama addressed the conflict in Gaza and his ability to use executive power in the face of congressional inaction.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa garnered plenty of attention during the United States–Africa Leaders Summit, but Obama downplayed the importance of a new experimental medicine to treat the deadly disease. It’s more important to stop the spread of the disease via public health efforts, he said, than to treat the symptoms of individual patients. He added that he wants to see more research on the drug.

NBC’s Chris Jansing also asked Obama about the situation in Ukraine, and if more action would be needed against Russia. “The sanctions are working as intended,” Obama replied, “The [Russian] economy has ground to a halt.” He dismissed the tactical value of providing lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, saying it would not be enough to deter Russia.

On the war in Gaza, Obama said peace would only come when Palestinians had jobs and opportunity. “I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for people who are struggling in Gaza,” he said.

Barack Obama, Executive Orders, Gaza, Russia and Ukraine

Obama: Americans don't want me 'twiddling my thumbs'

Updated