President Obama hosted dozens of immigration advocates at the White House on Thursday, imploring them to keep the pressure on House Republicans even as prospects are dimming for a comprehensive reform bill to pass Congress by the end of the year.
Obama addressed a room packed with civil rights, religious, business and labor leaders who have formed a broad coalition to support one of the president’s top domestic priorities. After demanding that House leaders back a reform bill approved by the Senate or propose their own ideas, the president paused to thank those gathered for their persistence.
“There are going to be moments where you meet resistance and the press will declare something dead or that it’s not going to happen. That can be overcome,” Obama said. As the crowd applauded, he raised his voice: “You look fired up to make the next push.”
The exchange — reminiscent of Obama’s campaign rallies — suggested that he recognizes that the political fight over immigration is likely to last well into next year, with no guarantees that the House will ultimately support a comprehensive deal.
The window for progress on immigration is closing quickly, as Republicans focus on problems with the implementation of Obama’s health-care law and with another budget deadline in January. Some advocates fear that the debate might be pushed beyond Republican primary races in the spring.
But the White House is hoping that now is the time to strike, with polls showing that the public has placed most of the blame for the 16-day government shutdown on Republicans. In making his case Thursday, Obama said both parties would benefit in polls if Congress made a deal to address the fate of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants.
“Good policy is good politics in this instance,” he said. “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.”
Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House leaders have said they are committed to immigration reform, but they do not support the Senate plan, which would offer most illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship 13 years after passage. On Wednesday, Boehner said he remains “hopeful” that the House will take up immigration legislation, but he did not promise to bring any bills to the floor this year.
“I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed,” he told reporters.
Immigrant advocates have grown increasingly frustrated with House leaders, but also with the Obama administration, which they think should do more to stem the deportations of more than 1,000 illegal immigrants per day.
Those in attendance Thursday applauded Obama, who was joined by Vice President Biden, for continuing to press the case in public. But they remained cautious about the chances of getting a comprehensive bill through Congress anytime soon.
“I don’t expect to have a Rose Garden ceremony in December,” said Angela Kelley, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank allied with the White House. “But it’s a really long time until the next election and I don’t imagine that the Republican House members can stall on this issue and hope it’s just swept under the rug and forgotten about for such a long period of time.”