After a disastrous week over the his health care law exchange website, President Barack Obama decided to turn his attention to immigration reform in a White House speech delivered in the East Room on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. The President wants the Republican controlled House of Representatives to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill by the end of the year. Immigration reform is one Obama's three legislative priorities for the remainder of the year.
The President delivered short remarks Thursday morning, lasting only 11 minutes in the White House's East Room, with Vice President Joe Biden standing by his side. Obama spent the speech urging Republicans to pass the Senate's immigration bill they passed in June, and subsequently failed to make any headway in the House. There are currently more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country whose status and future is in limbo.
The Senate bill entitled the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" passed with bipartisan support of 68 to 32 votes, and contained the following major elements; border security, employee verification, visa programs reforms, legal status for illegals, and devised a 13-year "path to citizenship" for the illegal immigrants.
President Obama began his speech by discussing the differences between the Republicans and Democrats, which was emphasized in the government shutdown and nearing a debt default, saying the two parties "still have some really big disagreements"… but "that's no reason that we shouldn't be able to work together on the things that we do agree on."
The President outlined the importance of passing a budget for the rest of the 2014 fiscal year, before entering his discussion on another important legislative priority; immigration reform. Obama expressed that there should be bipartisan support for the bill; "That's no reason that we shouldn't be able to work together on the things that we do agree on. It's good for our economy. It's good for our national security. It's good for our people. And we should do it this year."
President Obama again described the elements of the Senate bill he wants passed. Obama stated he supports the Senate bill even though he admitted, "It didn't have everything that I wanted; it didn't have everything that anybody wanted; but it addressed the core challenges of how we create a immigration system that is fair."
Obama indicated that an immigration deal would help the economy and deficit, saying, "So this isn't just the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do" and then described the outcomes of reform, which includes; "Securing our borders; modernizing our legal immigration system; providing a pathway to earned, legalized citizenship; growing our economy; strengthening our middle class; reducing our deficits -- that's what common-sense immigration reform will do."
However, as the President stated even if the bill has bipartisan support, it does not mean it can pass. Making a joke the President said; "Now, obviously, just because something is smart and fair, and good for the economy and fiscally responsible and supported by business and labor -- and the evangelical community and many Democrats and many Republicans, that does not mean that it will actually get done. This is Washington, after all."
Obama reminded Republicans that his predecessor and Republican President George W. Bush supported immigration reform, and he supported a Republican devised bill when he was a senator.
Making another joke, he said that passing immigration is not a campaign ploy, pronouncing; "I'm not running for office again. I just believe this is the right thing to do. "I just believe this is the right thing to do. And I also believe that good policy is good politics in this instance." However, it is a campaign tactic maybe not the President's himself, but for the Democrats to recapture the House.
The President is hoping Americans will be angered that Republicans do not support the bill. Passing the bill would help Democrats with momentum for the 2014 midterm election, especially with all the strides the Democrats made in the 2012 elections with Hispanics, winning 71 percent of their vote. Hispanics would widely benefit from this legislation passing. Therefore, Obama emphasized that wide American support, declaring; "And if folks are really that consumed with the politics of fixing our broken immigration system, they should take a closer look at the polls because the American people support this."
President Obama challenged Republicans who are not willing to pass the Senate bill and the similar bill the House Democrats created, that they also oppose; "So anyone still standing in the way of this bipartisan reform should at least have to explain why. A clear majority of the American people think it's the right thing to do. Now, how do we move forward? Democratic leaders have introduced a bill in the House that is similar to the bipartisan Senate bill. So now it's up to Republicans in the House to decide whether reform becomes a reality or not."
Concluding the President stated; "Rather than create problems, let's prove to the American people that Washington can actually solve some problems. This reform comes as close to anything we've got to a law that will benefit everybody now and far into the future. So let's see if we can get this done. And let's see if we can get it done this year."
The Republican controlled House has been reluctant to pass the bill because they do not want to pass any "massive" legislation, similar to the President's health care law passed in 2010. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH stated right after the Senate passed their bill that it would not pass the Republican House.
Passing immigration reform the President wants in the House remains uncertain. The House Democratic bill cannot garner Republican support, especially since the one issue Republicans particularly Republicans from the Tea Party most object to, is the path for citizenship. While a bipartisan working group could not come to an agreement for major comprehensive legislation. Speaker Boehner said Republicans are open to passing bills on certain immigration issues, however, Democrats and the President oppose this method.
Earlier this week Speaker Boehner expressed an interest in passing immigration reform, at a press conference, where he said; "I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed. And I'm hopeful."
However, as his spokesman Brendan Buck responded after the President's remarks; "The Speaker agrees that America has a broken immigration system and we need reform that would boost our economy. He's also been clear that the House will not consider any massive, Obamacare-style legislation that no one understands. Instead, the House is committed to a common sense, step-by-step approach that gives Americans confidence that reform is done the right way. We hope that the president will work with us - not against us - as we pursue this deliberate approach."
Immigration reform took a back burner this summer, when directly after the Congressional recess foreign policy issues took center stage in late August and early September, including the Syrian chemical weapons attack crisis, and taking some steps to renewing diplomatic relations with Iran, and beginning talks to end their nuclear program. Then the rest of the September and over half of October were spent on the 16-day partial government shutdown, and trying to avert a debt default. During those times all other legislation was put aside.
The President might have made a joke that he is "not running for office again," but that does not mean he is still not campaigning. The President has lead more by campaigning than by any other method, and with the 2014 midterm elections on the horizons, he is gearing up to help Democrats regain the House. With the Democrats in control of both Houses of Congress, the President can try to stave off lame duck status and can again have free reign to pass the rest of his Presidential agenda and secure his legacy. The President is even spending all of Friday, Oct. 25 fundraising for Democrats.
The President knows there are still bruises and anger from the fight over the spending bill and raising the debt ceiling. Never mind the Republicans continued hostility over Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the President's landmark sweeping health care law, where Republicans were completely locked out of any of the original negotiations. It is hardly the time for another sweeping legislation no matter how beneficial it may be. Obama wants to take advantage of Republican's unwillingness to work with him on this issue, because he refused to negotiate during the shutdown. The President may be promoting bipartisanship, but his motives are all partisan all the way to a 2014 midterm victory.
President Barack Obama's Remarks on Immigration Reform, Oct. 24, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.