President Obama urged the House of Representatives Thursday to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill by the end of the year.
The Senate has already passed bipartisan immigration legislation, Obama said, and the House should finish the job to fix the nation’s broken immigration system and show the US that Washington can solve the nation’s problems.
“Republicans in the House, including the speaker, have said we should act, so let’s not wait,” said Obama. “It doesn’t get easier to just put it off, let’s do it now.”
Immigration is an issue that has reached a crucial point. Democrats have long wanted comprehensive reform, while some Republicans believe their party should join in the effort lest they lose even more Hispanic votes.
The measure approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate would provide a path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants while allocating more money and effort to policing the nation’s border with Mexico, among other things.
In the House, key Republicans have said they prefer to take a piece-by-piece approach to immigration. Many conservatives remain opposed to anything that they judge resembles amnesty for those living in the nation illegally.
But overall progress on immigration has stalled in recent months. It threatens to become a will-o’-the-wisp, something that seems almost within Washington’s grasp before receding in the distance.
Given that, why did Obama devote time to the subject today?
The ticking clock
With only a few work weeks left in the legislative year it’s unlikely the House will make much progress on immigration before 2014. Once things kick into next year, the 2014 midterms draw ever closer, and history shows Congress makes little progress on controversial bills in an election’s shadow.
Obama likely is trying to inject some urgency into the House’s consideration of the subject, given the limitations of the calendar. Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that he’s still “hopeful” the House will deal with immigration, so now is a propitious time for Obama to bring the subject up again.
“Every day that goes by makes it increasingly difficult to pass new immigration laws,” writes political expert Sean Sullivan on the Washington Post “Fix” political blog.
The administration also wants to put as much political pressure on the House as possible on immigration even if lawmakers aren’t going to pass a comprehensive bill.
Thus Obama mentioned the recent government shutdown and threat of default in the context of immigration action. He said that polls show the public favors action, and that it’s now up to the House to make that a reality.
His clear threat to the House GOP: If you don’t move we’ll try and make this another example of how a faction of conservatives is making you dysfunctional.
“The latest turn to immigration is more about kicking the GOP when it’s down,” writes Zeke J. Miller on Time’s Swampland blog.
It's not Obamacare
With all the news about troubles in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges it’s also likely a relief for the White House to pivot to another subject, even if only for the duration of a short speech.
That’s what Republicans are charging, in any case.
“I’ll give you 3 guesses and 2 don’t count.... Why did the President suddenly decide to give a speech on immigration this morning? #Obamacare,” tweeted Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus Thursday.