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PolitiFact: Fact-checking House Speaker John Boehner's numbers on President Obama's actions

House Speaker John Boehner says President Barack Obama said 22 times that he couldn’t take executive action on immigration, and that he made “unilateral changes” to Obamacare 38 times.
Published Mar. 2, 2015

House Republican leaders fanned out across the Sunday shows to defend their attempts to overturn President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration through a funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

The group came armed with the same talking point and a very specific claim.

"The president chose to use an authority that he said 22 separate times that he didn't have the authority to do," Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Meet the Press' Chuck Todd.

"Twenty-two different times," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said on Fox News Sunday.

"The president last November did something that 22 times before he said he wouldn't do," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said on CNN.

"The president said 22 times, 22 times, that he couldn't do what he eventually did," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said on CBS' Face the Nation.

Are Boehner and others right?

Turns out the number is a bit of a stretch, but the broader point by Boehner and the rest is accurate. We rate Boehner's claim Mostly True.

The source for Boehner's claim is Boehner himself. After Obama's post-midterm elections announcement to delay deportations of unauthorized immigrants who have lived in the country for more than five years but have children who are citizens or have green cards, Boehner's office created a BuzzFeed-style blog post detailing "22 Times President Obama Said He Couldn't Ignore or Create His Own Immigration Law."

In a nutshell, the majority of the examples are of Obama saying he did not have power to do more on immigration without Congress.

For example, Obama was asked in September 2012 if he would issue an executive action delaying deportation for non-criminal immigrants such as the parents of U.S.-born children. Obama replied that "as the head of the executive branch, there's a limit to what I can do … we're still going to, ultimately, have to change the laws in order to avoid some of the heartbreaking stories that you see coming up occasionally." As in, parents being deported.

The following January, Obama was asked why he couldn't protect mothers living here without authorization from deportation as he had law-abiding students. "I'm not a king," he said.

But other statements on Boehner's list say something else or aren't specific to immigration.

In two instances during his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama criticized "signing statements" used by President George W. Bush that interpret laws, but he did not bring up immigration. Immigration was also not part of his reply to a question at a 2010 MTV/BET event when he said, "I can't simply ignore laws that are out there," in response to a question about "don't ask, don't tell."

Boehner's broader point — that Obama said one thing about executive action but did another — is accurate. But he should refrain from the rhetorical flourish of saying Obama said it 22 times.

Later in his interview with CBS' John Dickerson, Boehner alleged other examples of executive overreach.

"It's the president of the United States overreaching, and that's just not on immigration," Boehner said. "You know 38 times he made unilateral changes to Obamacare. Many of these, I believe, far beyond his constitutional authority to do so."

On this number, 38, Boehner's claim rates Half True.

Boehner's staff pointed us to the Galen Institute, a think tank that promotes free-market principles in health care. A Feb. 25 article lists 48 changes to the Affordable Care Act, but only 29 changes were made by the Obama administration.

Galen Institute president Grace-Marie Turner told PolitiFact that the think tank will soon update its unilateral action count to 30, with the administration's recent decision to reduce cost-sharing. The law originally called for out-of-pocket maximums to be lowered for those between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, but the administration changed this provision to only apply to those between 100 and 250 percent of the poverty level.

She added that the administration repeated three of the unilateral actions, which would hypothetically bring the count up to 33.

And an August 2014 report out of the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan government program, included five additional examples. All of these combined adds up to 38, Turner said.

But many of the changes are routine, noncontroversial and technical in nature, experts told us.

According to the Congressional Research Service, there have been 12 significant "delays, extensions" or "other actions taken by the administration."

The report says that the most controversial action has been the 2013 decision to delay enforcement of the employer mandate — the requirement that employers with 50 or more employees must offer full-time workers affordable health insurance or pay a penalty — to 2015.

Of Galen's more comprehensive list, most are technical changes, rather than policy changes, said James Thurber, director of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.

"Most are insignificant administrative actions by (Health and Human Services)," Thurber wrote in an email to PolitiFact. "This is common under all presidents."

Lauren Carroll contributed to this report. Read the full fact-checks at PunditFact.com.

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