After speech, Obama launches 'aggressive sales job' on immigration action

Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser to President Obama, spoke optimistically Friday about still working with Republicans on some issues. Mr. Obama will be traveling across America to talk about his moves on immigration.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Dan Pfeiffer, Senior Advisor to President Obama, speaks at the Monitor Breakfast for reporters on Friday, November 21, 2014.

President Obama is going to undertake a “very aggressive sales job” on the executive action he took on immigration, even while leaving the door open for a potential deal with Republicans in Congress, says his senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer.

The president and cabinet members will travel across America, explaining the directive that shields nearly 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation for three years. They want to make sure people know how to apply for the status, and they'll say that Congress still needs to finish the job.

The message tour begins Friday when Mr. Obama travels to Las Vegas, continues on Sunday with a pre-taped interview for ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” and then shifts on Tuesday to Chicago, where Obama will meet with immigration advocates.

Getting out the message on immigration “will be an incredibly important priority” stretching into next year, said Mr. Pfeiffer, who spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Monitor on Friday.

The House has failed to take up the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013. On Friday, Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio said that with the executive action, Obama has “chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek.”

Yet Pfeiffer – who was speaking at the breakfast at the time of Mr. Boehner’s comments – is still looking forward to possible talks. 

“We hope to have productive conversations. If the speaker is serious that he wants to get this done, and I believe that he is, if other members of his conference want to get this done, then we want to have those initial conversations before we start making ultimatums” about vetoing piecemeal bills that Congress might pass, Pfeiffer said. “I don’t want to rule anything in or out.”

"Let’s see” where Republicans are in January, after they’ve issued their press releases and gone on the cable TV shows and the new members have arrived, Pfeiffer said.

The White House, he said, still plans to work with Republicans on areas where they can agree, such as tax reform, infrastructure, and trade.

On the dismal performance of Democrats in the midterm elections, Pfeiffer said that larger forces such as the electoral map and the midterm dynamics worked against them. But, he added, the White House, the Democratic Party, and the president are all “thinking deeply” about what went wrong. He cautioned against a simplistic view that “demographics plus technology equals victory” and said the party needs more discipline and unity in talking about “the very important progress that we’ve made.”

Now that the midterms over, Pfeiffer said the president is “more free” to get out and about with his message. In the past few weeks, he has closed a climate deal with China, announced a position on “net neutrality,” and acted on immigration. “We do feel a sense of momentum,” he said.

On the policy front, he said, Obama will continue to move forcefully, keeping in mind not only his own policies, but the 2016 elections and the aim of making sure that a Democrat succeeds him.

“There is no reward for being weak here," Pfeiffer said. "He feels the pressure of time. We all do.”

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