WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he would act alone — even on the hot-button issue of illegal immigration — if a divided and uncooperative Congress continued to fail to act.
Obama will announce a set of executive actions at the end of the summer designed to help stem the flow of illegal immigrants, including unaccompanied children, across the southern border, following the departure of Congress last week for a five-week summer recess without agreeing on a solution or funding.
“In the face of that kind of dysfunction, what I can do is . . . scour our authorities to try to make progress,” Obama said at a news conference at the State Department. “I promise you, the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done.”
Obama answered questions about a variety of domestic and international topics in his final news conference before he and his family leave on Saturday for their annual vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. The Obamas are expected to return to Washington in two weeks.
The president has spent months administering more than 40 executive actions to push past a gridlocked Congress, some minor and some significant. Any additional actions, especially on immigration, are sure to anger House of Representatives Republicans, who already have voted to sue him for acting on his own on to make changes to health care legislation.
About 52,000 minors traveling without their parents have been caught at the border since October, according to the Obama administration. That number has slowed in recent weeks.
“We have a broken system. It’s under-resourced, and we’ve got to make choices in terms of how we allocate personnel and resources,” Obama said. “My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law. . . . Until that happens, I’m going to have to make choices. That’s what I was elected to do.”
In answer to a question, Obama said he can’t solve the controversial practice that allows U.S. companies to relocate abroad to avoid paying billions of dollars in federal taxes, but that he is examining what he can do to at least discourage it.
The practice, called inversion, occurs when large U.S. corporations merge with smaller foreign companies, moving their headquarters to low-tax countries such as Ireland while making only minimal changes to their operations. The U.S. company, though, becomes a subsidiary and saves on taxes.
“We don’t want to see this trend grow,” Obama said. “We don’t want companies who have up until now been playing by the rules suddenly looking over their shoulder and saying, ‘You know what, some of our competitors are gaming the system and we need to do it, too.’”
The news conference came late Wednesday at the conclusion of a first-of-its-kind summit with leaders of nearly all Africa’s nations designed to boost economic ties between the United States and Africa.
Thousands of heads of states, lawmakers, business leaders, development organizations and government officials flocked to Washington for the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which the White House billed as the largest gathering of African leaders ever in Washington. They discussed investment, democracy building, education and health care, though some of the summit was overshadowed by the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Obama announced $33 billion in new trade and investments in Africa and a goal to bring electricity to 16 million African homes and businesses. He said he and African leaders agreed the summit should be a regular event.
“This summit reflects the reality that even as Africa continues to face great challenges, we’re also seeing the emergence of a new, more prosperous Africa,” the president said. “Africa’s progress is being led by Africans, including leaders here today. I want to take this opportunity again to thank my fellow leaders for being here.”
Lesley Clark and Tony Pugh of the Washington Bureau contributed.