President Obama might be looking for allies anywhere he can find them during the contentious debt limit debate that has consumed Washington this month. But, as he learned Monday, he would be wise not to forget about his base while his focus is aimed at battling House Republicans.
Appearing at a luncheon at the Wardman Park Marriott for the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the country, Obama sought to shore up support from a critical pillar of the coalition that got him elected in 2008. It did not go as smoothly as the president might have hoped.
After running through his talking points on the debt negotiations, Obama turned his attention to a subject just as thorny: immigration reform. Acknowledging that some civil rights activists have criticized his administration for deporting 1 million undocumented residents, Obama said: “I share your concerns; I understand them. We are responding. We are enforcing flawed laws in the most humane way possible.”
With a nod toward the deadlocked debt talks, he added: “Some want me to bypass Congress and change laws on my own.”
The audience began chanting “Yes, you can!” a play off the president’s 2008 campaign slogan.
Obama continued, laying blame at the feet of his Republican rivals: “Believe me, right now dealing with Congress, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting, I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. It’s not how our Constitution is written. Let’s be honest: I need a dance partner here and the floor is empty.”
But the crowd was not completely convinced. A group of students stood during the president’s remarks, in a silent protest against his policies. And at a news conference afterward, La Raza President Janet Murguía said Obama had failed the Latino community.
“We’re not satisfied the president has kept his promise,” she said. “On the issue of immigration reform, it’s fair to say that we didn’t hear anything new.”
She stressed that La Raza was perhaps more frustrated with Republicans and noted that the group had invited five Republican presidential candidates to the luncheon, but all of them declined. Still, she did not go easy on the president.
A June tracking poll by impreMedia-Latino Decisions found that Latino voters give the president a 48 percent approval rating on immigration reform. Thirty-eight percent disapproved of his handling of the issue.
At 3 p.m. Tuesday, a coalition of Latino organizations, including CASA de Maryland, CARECEN, Familias Unidas, Presente.org, Progressive Maryland, Gamaliel, Partnership for Renewal in Southern and Central Maryland, Center for Community Change and the Franciscan Action Center, has scheduled a protest in front of the White House.
Referring to Obama’s remarks about the debt ceiling, Murguía said: “Our community was eager to hear more specifics, any opportunity to lay out specifics around the debt issue and what it might mean specifically for us. The stakes are high for everyone, but particularly for the Latino community on whose backs we have to make sure these reforms will not be a burden. His speech was on policy, but had more of a political agenda.”