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Is Barack Obama an imperial president?

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Bush invited controversy with his aggressive use of "signing statements," written pronouncements during bill signings that explain the president's view of a law – including at times the constitutionality of some aspects of it. In his first presidential campaign, Obama decried Bush's practice, but as president, he has continued it.

In their use of executive orders, Bush and Obama are virtually tied: In his first five years in office, Bush issued 165 orders, versus 167 by Obama. But a bean-counting approach doesn't capture the scope of a president's approach to executive power.

"It's really the character of the actions, and their subject," says Jonathan Turley, a constitutional scholar at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "In my view, Obama has surpassed George W. Bush in the level of circumvention of Congress and the assertion of excessive presidential power. I don't think it's a close question."

Many of Obama's most controversial power plays have come through means other than executive orders. Here are some examples:

•Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This policy, announced by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012, came via a memorandum that directs authorities to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" in dealing with some young undocumented immigrants.

If they meet the criteria for eligibility, they are shielded temporarily from deportation and allowed to work. The DACA program enacted many of the goals of the failed DREAM Act legislation, though it does not create a path to citizenship.

Critics say that waiving deportation laws for more than a million people is not "prosecutorial discretion" – it's policymaking by executive fiat, usurping the role of Congress. Simon Lazarus, senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, disagrees, calling DACA "perfectly compatible with the president's discretion in the immigration area."

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