President Obama lectured a protester during a California immigration event Monday, saying in an unscripted moment that he could not unilaterally halt deportations of illegal immigrants and that true reform would require more than “just shouting.”
“The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws,” Obama told the heckler at a speech in San Francisco's Chinatown. “It won't be as easy as just shouting.”
Obama, who has recast his attention on passing comprehensive immigration reform, has routinely been criticized by the Hispanic community for a record number of deportations under his watch. Immigration advocates point out that Obama already stopped the deportation of Dream Act-eligible Latinos -- and are calling on him to again use executive actions to prevent those living in the U.S. illegally from being kicked out of the country.
The White House had hoped to use the event to pressure House Republicans to pass a stalled immigration bill, but the deportation controversy overshadowed the president's remarks.
Earlier in his speech, the president accused Republicans of focusing exclusively on the botched rollout of his health care law, letting important initiatives like immigration reform fall through the cracks.
For their part, Republicans said that Obamacare, in fact, was causing Hispanics to turn on a president they overwhelmingly helped reelect.
“The Obamacare rollout signals not only that Obamacare is flawed but Democrats promise about big government doesn’t benefit the Hispanic community,” Izzy Santa, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said. “The reality is Hispanics should be skeptical of Democrats promises because they rarely come true and Latinos wind up paying the price.”
Despite the stalled legislation in the House, Obama told the California audience that he genuinely believed Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wanted to tackle immigration reform.
“I believe the speaker is sincere,” the president said. “He genuinely wants to get this done.”
Boehner has vowed the House will not act on a bill passed by the Senate, saying the lower chamber would take up the immigration package in a piecemeal fashion.
The president, echoing a recent shift by the White House, reiterated Monday that Republicans could take such a course as long as they eventually addressed the issue comprehensively.
“We can carve that bird into multiple pieces,” Obama said, alluding to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
Though his speech was devoted to immigration reform, Obama was also forced to address a controversy weighing down his administration: the botched rollout of Obamacare. The administration has promised the problem-plagued healthcare.gov website will work for the “vast majority” of users by the end of the month.
"Even as we're getting this darned website up to speed,” Obama said Monday, “thousands of Californians every day are signing up for new health plans.”