For the second time in two weeks, President Obama called on House Republicans to support a broad overhaul of immigration laws, invoking his predecessor George W. Bush in a bid to restore momentum to a key second-term priority.
Obama didn't mention Bush by name, but he reminded his audience of immigration advocates in the East Room that the former president championed a similar, though ultimately unsuccessful, comprehensive immigration plan in 2006 and 2007.
"Some folks think, 'Well, if Obama's for it, then I'm against it,'" said Obama, who was joined by Vice President Biden. "I would remind everybody that my Republican predecessor was for it."
"I also believe that good policy is good politics in this instance," he added. "If folks are consumed with the politics of a broken immigration system, they should take a closer look at the polls because the American people support this. Everybody wins here if we work together to get this done."
Obama's remarks are part of a White House effort to gain traction for the president's domestic agenda in the wake of the end of the 16-day government shutdown last week. In addition to immigration, Obama called again for Congress to pass a farm bill.
House Republicans have said they will not support a bipartisan immigration plan, approved by the Senate in June, that features a 13-year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. GOP leaders said they are instead working on a series of smaller-scale bills, including additional border security. But they have not yet put forward a bill that includes offering legal status or citizenship for the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants.
"This isn’t just the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do," Obama said. "But just because something is smart, good for the economy, fiscally responsible, supported by business, labor, evangelicals, Democrats and Republicans, that does not mean it will get done. This is Washington, after all. Everything tends to be viewed through a political prism."
Former president George W. Bush and his brother Jeb, the former Florida governor, have both spoken out this year in support of immigration reform. Bush has said his failure to get a comprehensive bill through Congress was one of the major regrets of his presidency.
Obama called on Congress to get a bill passed by year's end, but such a timetable appears unlikely — and with another round of budget negotiations slated for January, the window is tightening. Some advocates have said the immigration effort could spill into the spring, after the deadline for Congressional primary races.
With public opinion polls showing widespread frustration with the GOP in the wake of the government shutdown, the administration hopes to keep the political pressure on through immigration and other domestic priorities.
Toward the end of his speech, Obama thanked the advocates for their persistence and urged them to keep up the fight.
"There are going to be moments where you meet resistance and the press will declare something dead, that it's not going to happen. That can be overcome," Obama said. As the crowd applauded, the president raised his voice to be heard: "You look fired up to make the next push. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, I want you to keep working and I'll be right next to you to make sure we get immigration reform done."