Tuesday was a sweeping day for President Barack Obama’s acting without Congress, with pending executive actions on the environment, gay rights and taking measures to promote manufacturing.
Obama has talked about using his “pen and phone” to do what he can when Congress won’t act and has described 2014 as a “year of action,” which Republican critics have used to accuse him of executive overreach. Obama has previously taken action on such controversial issues as gun restrictions and immigration.
The president will speak Tuesday night to an LGBT gathering in New York, where he is almost certain to bring up his pending executive order to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, which the White House announced Monday the president is poised to sign.
The White House announced Tuesday morning that Obama took action on the manufacturing initiatives, and the president touted plans to block off large swaths of ocean off the Pacific coast from fishing and drilling.
One House Republican called the oceans order another example of the “imperial presidency,” while a Senate Republican expressed concerned about the religious freedom of employers under the anti-discrimination order.
On the manufacturing moves – which Obama talked about at a stop in Pittsburgh – the administration has pledged to streamline access to $5 billion of more than 700 separate federal research and development grants for private companies.
Obama is also directing five federal agencies to spend $150 million on research for the Materials Genome Initiative, a public-private endeavor to develop materials for advanced manufacturing. Further, the White House announced that 90 mayors are now committed to the “Mayors Maker Challenge” to expand physical locations for manufacturing facilities in their cities and towns.
Obama plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which President George W. Bush first designated as a protected area. The waters between Hawaii and America Samoa are considered U.S. territory.
“We’ve already shown that when we work together, we can protect our oceans for future generations,” Obama said Tuesday in a video announcement to the Our Oceans Conference sponsored by the State Department. “So let’s redouble our efforts. Let’s make sure that years from now we can look our children in the eye and tell them that, yes, we did our part, we took action, and we led the way toward a safer, more stable world.”
The White House said Obama would solicit input from fishermen, scientists, local leaders and conservationists in deciding the precise boundaries for the reserve.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) thinks he should have included Congress.
“It’s another example of this imperial presidency,” Hastings told the Washington Post. “If there are marine sanctuaries that should be put in place, that should go through Congress.”
Obama is also directing federal agencies to develop a plan to combat and deter illegal fishing, address seafood fraud and prevent illegally caught fish from enterng the market.
Obama will be speaking Tuesday evening to the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Gala in New York.
“The president has asked his staff to put together an executive order that he can sign in the future,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. “An executive order along these lines is no substitute for congressional legislation. Unfortunately this is yet another example of Republicans blocking something that has strong support around the country.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said hoped the president’s executive order would have similar religious freedom protections to the ENDA legislation.
“While the specifics of this executive order are not yet clear, I believe it must include the same religious protections that are included in the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed the Senate,” Hatch said in a statement. “ENDA strikes a good balance to ensure that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated, but also that one of our nation’s fundamental freedoms – religious freedom – is still upheld. The same must be said for any Obama Administration initiative on this issue.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would apply to nearly all employers. The Republican-controlled House did not take up the legislation.
The executive order is limited only to private employers doing work for the federal government. It will effect 14 million workers who are not working for private companies contracting with the government that are not already covered, according to the Associated Press.
Organizing for Action, the political group that grew out of Obama’s two presidential campaigns, is already raising money from the pending order. In a fundraising email to supporters, the OFA said: “President Obama stood up against LGBT discrimination – will you?”
The email asked supporters to click to sign a petition to pressure House Republicans to vote for ENDA, which eventually brings the person to a donation form for OFA.
“In 2014, discrimination against LGBT Americans shouldn’t be legal anywhere – President Obama and a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate have stood up and said that,” the OFA message said. “By refusing to hold a vote on ENDA, Speaker Boehner is taking a stand, firmly on the wrong side of history.”