President Barack Obama had high hopes for 2014.
Years of waiting for Congress to come around to his point of view had Obama’s patience wearing thin. So as he rang in the new year, the president declared that this would be a “year of action.” Almost daring lawmakers to stop him, he put the nation on notice that he planned to use whatever executive powers he could muster to move his agenda forward.
“America does not stand still, and neither will I,” Obama said in his State of the Union address in January.
On immigration, climate change and U.S.-Cuba relations, at least, Obama stayed true to his word, reshaping decades of American policy he argued had outlived its time. In a flurry of executive decrees taken over the heads of lawmakers, Obama added notches to his legacy and fulfilled a few campaign promises along the way.
Other initiatives fell flat, never took off or had only modest impact. With the economy, the president found his ability to act unilaterally largely limited to tinkering along the margins.
A look at how Obama used executive action in 2014:
Stymied by Congress on climate change for much of his presidency, Obama this year went on the offensive. He set unprecedented greenhouse gas limits on power plants that the energy industry warned would shutter coal plants across the country. He ordered increased fuel standards for trucks and protected major swaths of U.S. waters. In Beijing, Obama sealed a historic climate agreement with China after secret negotiations.
While in Australia for a Group of 20 economic summit, Obama pledged $3 billion to a U.N.-established global fund to help poorer countries prepare for a changing climate. It’s unclear where Obama will find the money he needs to make good on his pledge.
When it became clear Congress wouldn’t budge on immigration, the president took matters into his own hands. Obama created a program to shield from deportation as many as 4 million people in the U.S. illegally and enabled them to apply for work permits. He reordered law enforcement priorities, expanded an existing deportation deferral program for immigrants brought to the country as kids, and loosened eligibility requirements for green cards.
The action elicited GOP lawsuits and even impeachment threats. Republicans are weighing a range of options in the coming year to block Obama’s actions, such as withholding funding for the Homeland Security Department.
Although the economy improved measurably in 2014, it was unclear what role Obama’s actions played. He launched four regional manufacturing hubs as well as a new retirement savings program called myRA for low-income individuals. He also cracked down on certain overseas corporate mergers and acquisitions that allow companies to shirk U.S. taxes.
Obama is still looking for ways to fulfill a $3 billion pledge to a global climate fund. Hiking the salaries of federal contractors failed to spur Congress to raise the national minimum wage, although 14 states did so this year. Although he secured promises from community groups, universities and the private sector to boost key sectors, there was no guarantee they’d follow through.
Obama launched a new payment plan for some federal student loans, allowing borrowers to cap monthly payments at one-tenth of their income. He also secured commitments from 60 U.S. school districts to offer basic computer science to all middle or high school students.
He obtained private-sector commitments of $2 billion to help meet his goal of providing 99 percent of students access to high-speed Internet in the classroom. The Federal Communications Commission finally voted in December to provide another $2 billion for that effort.
In tandem with China, Obama extended the validity of visas for Chinese visitors to 10 years for tourists and business travelers, and five years for students. He levied economic sanctions on businesses and individuals in Russia, and prodded Europe to act in concert as he sought to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine.
And in one of his most stunning moves of the year, Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba after a half-century of estrangement. He also eased some sanctions and travel restrictions on the communist nation.
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