GOP Criticizes Administration's 'Pen & Phone' Executive Action

Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce on Monday an order granting same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. Republicans say this is one more piece of evidence President Obama is not willing to work with them.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Attorney General Eric Holder today grants an order extending same-sex married couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. It is a move some say is an example of the "pen and phone" executive action President Obama said he would use this year.

As she does most Mondays, Cokie Roberts joins us for a political perspective. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: First, tell us about this policy memo from Eric Holder. What does it do, exactly, and what are the politics behind it?

ROBERTS: Well, the politics behind it are pretty clear. The change on the issue of same-sex marriage in the country, according to public opinion polls, is enormous. And now, the majority of people support it, particularly young people. And one of the objects is to get young people to the polls in an off-year election, which is very difficult to do. They usually don't show up in off-years and for Democrats to win and to hold onto the Senate, they need those young people. So that's the politics.

The policy basically says that anything that the Justice Department has control over, that same-sex couples will be treated in the same way as heterosexual couples. And that means in enforcing domestic support orders; it means the joint filing for bankruptcy; it means that couples can't testify against each other - husband and wife, or wife and wife - and that prison visitation would be equal. And then benefits under the Department of Justice, including the FBI, would be equal, would be the same for same-sex couples as for heterosexual couples.

MONTAGNE: And it applies even in states where same-sex marriage is not legal. And that has Republicans saying that this administration is acting on its own, running roughshod over the legislative process.

Well, right. I mean, knowing it was coming, Republicans are using this order as what they call another piece of evidence that the president is not willing to work with them and that they can't trust him on other issues, like immigration.

ROBERTS: Right, and that's the reason that Speaker Boehner gave when he reversed his course last week and said that there probably would be no immigration bill this year. He said the Republicans just simply don't trust President Obama to enforce the law.

Now, yesterday, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who's one of the authors of the Senate immigration bill, said OK, let's just do a bill that doesn't go into effect until 2017, and Obama won't be president and then, you know, you don't have to worry about it. (Laughter)

ROBERTS: That took a few seconds for the speaker's office to shoot down because really, that lack of trust is not the real reason they killed immigration, as some Republicans, like Peter King, were frank to say yesterday.

MONTAGNE: Well, what do you think really happened on immigration?

ROBERTS: I think the Republicans all got together in their retreat, and that the speaker started hearing from his own people in his own party, and that they said we don't want to do immigration; it's going to be something that doesn't work for the people in our districts. Very, very few Republicans have a large Hispanic population in their districts, and the people who are their base disapprove of legalization in the immigration bill.

And they said: Look, we've got Obamacare - let's not distract from that. They are absolutely convinced that that's something for them to run on, and to take the Senate and hold the House on.

MONTAGNE: You know, talking about Obamacare, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report last week about its impact on jobs in the future. And the Democrats have spent the last few days ever since trying to put this to their advantage and evidently, they've been having some difficulty.

ROBERTS: Well, because the Congressional Budget Office said that the law would result in the loss of 2 million full-time workers over seven years. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The CBO actually said 2 million full-time equivalent workers.] That's a tough one to spin. Now, what the Democrats are saying is look, you know, people stopped working and collect Social Security, too. I mean, this gives them the opportunity not to be at a job that they don't want or to have a second job, and they can spend more time with their children.

ROBERTS: I mean, that's sort of the talking point that we're hearing from Democrats. But that's a tough one because anything that says jobs go away is not something that's likely to be very popular, no matter how sophisticated it is.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, as always, good to talk to you.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Cokie Roberts.

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Correction Feb. 10, 2014

We say that according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act would result in the loss of 2 million full-time workers over the next seven years. The CBO actually said 2 million full-time equivalent workers.

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