WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday said he would order a shift of immigration enforcement resources from the interior of the country toward the southern border as part of a broader effort to use executive actions in the face of Republican refusals to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
White House officials said that House Speaker John A. Boehner informed the president last week that he would not bring an immigration overhaul to the floor this year.
As a result, officials said Obama would vow to use his powers to address longstanding concerns about the effect of deportations on the families of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
“The president will address the Republican leadership’s unwillingness to bring immigration reform up for an up-or-down vote, and the president will announce a new effort to fix as much of our broken immigration system as he can through executive action,” a White House official said.
Among the first steps Obama will take is a shift of enforcement resources to the border, where there has been a surge of illegal immigrants, many of them young children from Central American countries.
On Monday, Obama also sent a letter to Congress asking for additional authority to deal with the new border issue by quickly deporting the children who have arrived. That letter has angered immigration activists, who have long accused the president of being too aggressive in deporting undocumented workers.
Obama has been considering broader executive actions that would reduce the number of deportations. But the president’s team delayed taking those actions this spring so that the executive orders would not interfere with potential congressional action on the issue.
With Boehner’s formal decision not to bring the issue to a vote, Obama has decided to move ahead on his own, although the specifics of what he does about deportations is unlikely to be clear until the end of the summer, officials said.
The president directed his staff to send him a set of options on how to “fix as much of our broken immigration system as we can” within his existing authorities. Those recommendations are set to be delivered to the president by the end of the summer, officials said.
In other White House news Monday, Obama sought to turn the page on a humiliating chapter in the history of the Veterans Affairs Department, tapping former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to take over the sprawling agency.
A former Army captain, McDonald would bring a blend of corporate and military experience to a bureaucracy reeling from revelations of chronic, system-wide failure and veterans dying while on long waiting lists for treatment. His selection reflects Obama’s desire to put a tested manager in charge as the White House calls for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the VA.
“What especially makes Bob the right choice to lead the VA right now is his three decades of experience building and managing one of the world’s most recognizable companies,” Obama said at VA headquarters. “In short, he’s about delivering better results.”
McDonald, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was not likely chosen because of any past support for the president. He donated to Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign to unseat Obama and has funded numerous other Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner.
Joined by his wife and adult children, the 61-year-old said he planned to put veterans at the center of everything the VA does — a bureaucratic twist on the old adage that the customer is always right.
“At the VA, the veteran is our customer and we must all focus all day, every day on getting them the benefits and the care that they have so earned,” McDonald said. “That’s the only reason we are here.”
Urging the Senate to confirm McDonald quickly, Obama reiterated his call for Congress to grant the VA secretary more authority to fire senior leaders if necessary. He said some of those responsible for falsifying patient records have been fired and more may be punished, adding that the scandal has “outraged us all.”
“This is not going to be an easy assignment. Bob knows that,” Obama said.
The VA operates the nation’s largest integrated health care system, with more than 300,000 fulltime employees and nearly 9 million veterans enrolled. But the agency faces intense scrutiny amid reports of nationwide treatment delays that were whitewashed by VA employees.
Last week, the White House released a scathing report Obama commissioned that charged the VA with “significant and chronic system failures” in the nation’s health system. The report also said the VA is battling a corrosive culture of distrust, lacking in resources and ill-prepared to deal with an influx of new and older veterans with a range of medical and mental health needs.
As outrage over the revelations snowballed, Obama dispatched top adviser Rob Nabors to investigate and report back on what must be fixed. Obama said he planned to keep Nabors at the VA temporarily during the leadership shift, and he praised Sloan Gibson for doing an “outstanding” job as acting VA secretary after Erin Shinseki resigned.
The New York Times and the Associated Press contributed to this report.