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Obama: Won't wait for legislation to advance 2014 priorities

U.S. President Barack Obama listens to remarks during his meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the Oval Office of the White
U.S. President Barack Obama listens to remarks during his meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in the Oval Office of the White

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he would not wait for Congress to pass legislation to advance his policy priorities this year and said he was "getting close" to finishing a review of U.S. surveillance practices - to be unveiled on Friday.

Obama, speaking to reporters during a cabinet meeting at the White House, foreshadowed his upcoming State of the Union address and what appeared to be a new messaging strategy by emphasizing his ability to take executive actions without approval from lawmakers.

"We are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help that they need," he said.

"I've got a pen, and I've got a phone. And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions ... and I've got a phone that allows me to convene Americans from every walk of life," he said.

Obama began last year with high hopes of making progress on gun control, immigration reform, and other issues after giving an inaugural address that rallied his base and set an aggressive tone for his second term.

But the year concluded with few legislative achievements. His gun control efforts largely failed and an immigration reform bill passed in the Senate but stalled in the House of Representatives.

White House officials, while referring to 2014 as a "year of action," have already played down the prospect of getting a lot of laws passed and told reporters that they would not measure the year's success by the administration's list of legislative victories.

Obama again listed immigration reform as a priority for the year. He will need Congress to turn his goals on that issue into law. The president also emphasized his goal of getting the U.S. economy to recover faster.

"The message to my cabinet - and that will be amplified in our State of the Union - is that we need all hands on deck to build on the recovery that we're already seeing. The economy is improving, but it could be improving even faster," Obama said.

"And I am absolutely confident that in 2014, if we're all working in the same direction and not worrying so much about political points but worrying much more about getting the job done, that we can see a lot of improvement this year," he said.

Republican speaker of the House John Boehner, whose support Obama will need for the administration's legislative priorities, said the president had lost focus on the economy.

"If the president's serious about wanting to improve the prospects for our economy - and higher wages and better jobs - all he has to do is pick up the phone and call Democrat leaders in the Senate and ask them to move one of these dozens of bills that we've sent over there that would help put Americans back to work," Boehner said.

On a separate issue, Obama is scheduled to make a speech on Friday outlining his decisions on how to reform controversial surveillance activities by the National Security Agency that were made public through revelations by former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden.

Asked if he had finished his NSA review, Obama said: "It's getting close."

(additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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