His return to Las Vegas on Tuesday — the first trip outside Washington in his second term — was an early test of his leadership style for the next four years. Obama called for a broad overhaul of immigration laws, using the power of the bully pulpit to urge Americans and lawmakers to get behind his vision.
But he also tried out a more conciliatory and less adversarial approach to Congress than he employed during the campaign and during the recent debate over the “fiscal cliff” and debt limit. While pressing forward with his vision, Obama doesn’t want to upset efforts already underway in Congress to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
At a speech at a public school here, Obama praised a bipartisan blueprint to address immigration reforms released Monday in the Senate.
“We need Congress to act on a comprehensive approach that finally deals with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in this country right now,” Obama said.
But he also went beyond that plan and differed with it in several ways.
“The good news is that — for the first time in many years — Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together. Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution. And yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years. At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon. And that’s very encouraging.”
Whereas the Senate plan, for instance, conditioned a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants on additional measures to strengthen border security, Obama did not make any such linkage. Obama pointed out that the administration has already made substantial progress in securing the border. The White House also released a fact sheet Wednesday that said the administration wants same-sex couples to be treated the same as heterosexual ones under immigration law.
But the administration will not release legislation, as previously considered, out of concern that doing so could disturb the process already underway in Congress. Obama and his aides have long worried that by simply adopting a position, the president can turn Republicans against a proposal they otherwise might support.
“There is a consensus developing in the United States on the need to do this,” Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One en route to Las Vegas. “And you’ve heard him speak frequently about it since the election and his commitment to move quickly to try to enact comprehensive immigration reform. That requires partners in Congress. ”