After months of remaining mostly quiet about the Senate Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform proposal, President Obama will take up the issue this week with a White House event to urge passage of the 1,000-page legislation. The question is whether that will help or hurt his cause.
Timed to coincide with the beginning of Senate debate on the bill, Obama will meet with “a broad, bipartisan and diverse coalition of business leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, religious and faith leaders, and other key stakeholders” at the White House Tuesday to press the case that “now is the time to enact commonsense immigration reform.” The White House says Obama will deliver remarks specifically supporting the Gang of Eight bill.
The president also used his weekly address Saturday to promote the legislation. Arguing that his administration has strengthened border security, deported criminal immigrants, and stopped enforcing the immigration laws in the case of so-called “dreamers,” Obama said, “If we’re going to truly fix a broken system, we need Congress to act in a comprehensive way. And that’s why what’s happening next week is so important.”
“The bill before the Senate isn’t perfect,” Obama continued. “It’s a compromise. Nobody will get everything they want — not Democrats, not Republicans, not me. But it is a bill that’s largely consistent with the principles I’ve repeatedly laid out for commonsense immigration reform.”
The president also used his fundraising trip to California to tout the Gang bill. “We’ve seen some hopeful signs that we can get finally a broken immigration reform system fixed, and I intend to get that done before the end of the summer,” he told an audience of wealthy donors at a private home in Los Angeles Friday. To accomplish his goal, Obama said, requires the help of “Republicans who are willing to take what, for them, are some difficult votes and some tough stands.” He singled out GOP Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Marco Rubio for particular praise.
At the same time, Obama urged the defeat of Republicans in Congress. “I have to say that right now the nature of the Republican Party makes it very difficult for them to engage in common-sense discussions around solving problems,” he said. “I will get a lot more done with a Democratic House, and I sure need to keep a Democratic Senate.”
In a notable aside, Obama said he doesn’t care if some Republicans support immigration reform solely to improve the GOP’s political prospects. “If I’ve got a bunch of Republicans who just for purely political reasons decide we’ve got to get right with immigration communities and so we’re going to pass immigration reform, I’m not concerned about their motives — although I think the folks who so far have stood up are deeply sincere about what needs to be done — but even if it’s political calculation, I’m game.”
So Obama is jumping into the immigration debate with both feet. What does that mean? Perhaps his involvement will intensify Democratic support for reform and win over the few skeptics in his own party. But at the same time, some opponents of reform will likely be happy to see the president become personally engaged in the issue, on the belief that in the past Obama has actually made his causes less popular by his personal involvement. And at the least, having Barack Obama out front on immigration reform will intensify the opposition of those Republicans who already have doubts about the Gang of Eight proposal. From now on, immigration reform will be a debate with the president playing a major role.