President Barack Obama sharply criticized Congress Friday for failing to act on key issues, including the border crisis and long-term infrastructure funding.
Obama particularly noted that Congress, just before leaving for a monthlong vacation this week, suggested that he act on immigration without their support — only two days after the House voted to sue the president over his use of executive action in implementing the Affordable Care Act. Obama said he will be forced to make tough choices to meet the country’s current challenges while congressional leaders are on summer break through August.
“Congress should stop standing in the way of the country’s success,” he said at the White House. If leaders are concerned about the president acting without first consulting Congress, the president continued, then they should pass legislation and “get things done.”
While Obama spoke on Friday, House Republicans made a second attempt at passing a border funding package after they previously failed to gain enough support. The failure to act came amid an ongoing influx of immigrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Obama pointed to GOP infighting during his speech, noting that House Republicans not only disagree with him on the border bill, they also clash with their counterparts in Congress.
“They can’t even pass their own version of the bill,” Obama said of the GOP House leaders. “That’s not disagreement between me and House Republicans. That’s disagreement between House Republicans and House Republicans.”
Obama called the House version of the measure “the most extreme and unworkable version,” and said leaders realized it wouldn’t advance past his desk. The GOP lawmakers are working “just so they can check a box before they’re leaving town for a month. And this is on an issue they all insisted had to be a top priority,” he added.
The president also noted that Congress stalled on confirming an ambassador to Russia, “for purely political reasons,” despite the daily escalation of conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists. The United States has imposed sanctions against Russia over the country’s involvement with the separatists’ cause. The European Union this week joined America in imposing sanctions.
While the Senate passed a last-minute fix to prevent funds from running out for federal highway and bridge construction, Obama also expressed disappointment that the solution would only last until May. Senators approved the $11 billion highway bill on Thursday night, hours before the federal government said it would begin rolling back infrastructure funding to states as money dissipated from the Highway Trust Fund. The country needs a long-term solution, not a fix that would only last until spring, the president said.
Obama began his speech by praising the continued of recovery within the job market, as news spread Friday that the U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs in July. The unemployment rate rose slightly to 6.2%.
“We could be much further along,” he added, “if Congress would do the job that people sent them to do.”
Toward the end of the press conference, Obama also answered a number of questions, including whether he stood behind CIA Director John Brennan, who yesterday apologized for spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The president also addressed the recent collapse of the cease-fire in Gaza. Reports cite the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier as a major reason bombing has resumed.
“If they are serious about resolving the situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible,” Obama said.
Obama defended Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts overseas, discouraging Americans from complaining, nitpicking, and second-guessing his efforts until he completes the tasks. “When I see John Kerry trying to broker a cease fire,” he said, “we should support it.”