House Speaker John A. Boehner was criticized by some in his party for a Thursday interview in which he endorsed passing a “comprehensive” plan, adopting the language of immigrant advocates pushing for citizenship.
By the time Boehner faced reporters for a Friday news conference, his remarks were more tepid, focusing primarily on the border-security theme that is more comfortable terrain for Republicans.
“I’m not talking about a 3,000-page bill,” he said. “What I’m talking about is a common sense, step-by-step approach [that] would secure our borders, allow us to enforce the laws and fix a broken immigration system.”
Pressed on whether he would ever support giving illegal immigrants the chance to be citizens, the speaker demurred: “I’m not going to get into any of the details of how you would get there. It’s just time to get the job done.”
The issue promises to also be complicated for Obama and his fellow Democrats, who will face unprecedented pressure from a newly empowered political base to secure a complete victory, citizenship path and all.
Hispanic leaders decided to cut Obama a break and support his reelection, despite what they considered his broken 2008 campaign promise to push immigration in his first term, but now several major organizations are planning an extensive grass-roots push next year to pressure White House officials.
“They understand they can’t make that promise twice in a lifetime,” said Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, which spent millions recruiting new Hispanic voters this year. “For the White House and the Democrats, we don’t want to hear any more, ‘We’re with you but [the Republicans] won’t let me.’ That ain’t good enough anymore.”
The Obama dilemma could come into focus early in the debate, if Republicans and some advocates seek to negotiate smaller, scaled-back ideas as a starting point.
A key demographic
The sudden burst of activity on the right and left reflects what activists describe as a sea change in the push for immigration legislation, which has been stymied since conservatives thwarted efforts by former president George W. Bush to pursue an overhaul following his 2004 reelection.
Unlike then, activists said Friday, many conservatives now see the danger of alienating Hispanic voters. And, in contrast to the Bush strategy, which focused on backroom negotiations on Capitol Hill, advocates have decided their best hope now is to apply outside pressure on skittish politicians in both parties.
Supporters of a new law were thrilled Friday with the news that two prominent conservative thinkers, talk show host Sean Hannity and columnist Charles Krauthammer, both expressed support for legalizing illegal immigrants.