President Obama tried to shift the spotlight away from scrutiny over Obamacare's rocky rollout to immigration reform, calling on House Republicans to overcome internal divisions on the issue and pass a bill that he could sign by the end of the year.
“It's up to Republicans in the House to decide whether reform becomes a reality or not,” he said in remarks in the East Room on Thursday. “What I've said to them and what I repeat today, if House Republicans have new and different ideas of how we move forward, I will be listening. I'm eager to hear those additional ideas.”
The president said he expected lawmakers to send him a bill by year’s end.
“Let’s see if we can get this done; let’s see if we can get it done this year,” said Obama.
After the 17-day government shutdown ended last week, Obama said he would make passage of a bill overhauling the nation's immigration laws a major priority this fall, along with moving a budget and the farm bill through Congress.
House Republicans have been pursuing a step-by-step approach, addressing different areas of immigration reform at a time and emphasizing border security. After Obama's remarks, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said there were no House GOP plans to roll separate changes to the nation's immigration policies into one large bill.
"The Speaker agrees that American has a broken immigration system and we need reform that would boost our economy," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. "He's also clear that the House will not consider any massive, Obamacare-style legislation that no one understands."
Instead, he said, 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," he added.
In his remarks Thursday Obama brushed aside doubts that a bipartisan consensus couldn't be reached on immigration even though partisan tensions are still running high in the wake of the shutdown and ongoing budget battles.
“We have fundamentally different views about how we should move forward on certain issues,” he said of the two parties. “That doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to work together on the things we do agree on.”
Revamping immigration policies, he said, would help improve national security, boost the economy and reduce the deficit by $1 trillion, citing a Congressional Budget Office estimate released in July.
The president pointed out that a bipartisan immigration reform bill passed the Senate in June with the support of more than a dozen Republicans. Although that measure varied from Obama's proposals, he said he would pass it if it could overcome hurdles in the House.
“There are some in this town who are primed to think, ‘if Obama is for it, than I have to be against it,’ ” he said. “I would remind you that this reform won more than a dozen Republican votes."
"I'm not running for office again. I just believe this is the right thing to do,” he added.
The president delivered his remarks while House Republicans were holding a contentious first hearing into the glitch-riddled Obamacare rollout that was sure to dominate headlines Thursday afternoon.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., opened the hearing by accusing the administration and website contractors of misleading members and the public about their readiness for the Oct. 1 launch of new insurance exchanges. Democrats though tried to downplay the problems with the enrollment websites, stressing the new health benefits for Americans.
Last week White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted that the Obamacare troubles wouldn't distract from the president's push for an immigration reform bill by the end of the year.
“The president made clear that he firmly believes we can get comprehensive immigration reform through Congress and on his desk by the end of the year,” Carney told reporters.