President Obama faces his final two years in office with hostile Republican majorities in the House and Senate. So what can he accomplish to secure his legacy as he limps to the finish line? Actually, quite a lot. Bestowed with massive powers by the Constitution and thousands of statutes that delegate authority to the executive branch, Obama could make significant progress on his agenda in three ways.
First, immigration. Obama has already announced that “before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take, that I believe will improve the functioning of our aliens system.” He is almost certainly referring to a plan to permit millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the country if they are related to people living in the United States legally and have resided here a longish period of time. This plan would extend an earlier action that permitted illegal immigrants to stay and work in the United States if they came here as children, have resided here continuously, and have not committed any serious crimes.
Second, climate change. Regulators under the Obama administration have already moved to cut carbon emissions of power plants and certain vehicles. Obama could extend these regulations to almost any other source of carbon emissions, such as refineries, manufacturers, and airplanes, and make them tougher if he wants. The Obama administration has also indicated that it will negotiate an agreement on carbon limitations with other countries, and abide by that agreement even if the Senate blocks an effort to confirm the agreement as a treaty.