U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he delivers his address on immigration reform at Del Sol High School on January 29, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (John Gurzinski/Getty Images North America)
President Obama used a speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday to urge Congress to move swiftly this year -- after decades of false starts -- to repair what he called America's "broken" immigration system.
"Now's the time," he said in five quick repetitions as his audience applauded.
The president spoke one day after a group of pro-reform senators outlined principles for a new immigration system, which the White House generally embraced as consistent with a draft bill Obama and his team have prepared in case the effort stalls in Congress.
Obama championed the air of bipartisanship emerging around immigration changes this month, but also said he is prepared for congressional opposition that may bloom before summer.
"A broad consensus is emerging," he said. "A call for action can now be heard coming from all across America. . . . And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away."
His remark was mostly bluster. If House and Senate lawmakers, who are now working in bipartisan teams to write legislation destined for committee consideration this spring, are unable to produce immigration measures for floor votes, any White House bill with Obama's name on it will not get a vote in the House, and probably would fail to get an airing in the Senate, even if its author "insists."
Instead, the White House released some additional details to back up Obama's speech, outlining the central reform ingredients he envisions: "smarter" enforcement; an earned path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country already; and an improved system for legal immigration.
"It's pretty straightforward," Obama said, while simultaneously conceding that emotional, entrenched debates about who becomes an American citizen and how they gain legal status are anything but.
The president will have more to say on the subject in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address. And on Wednesday, he will sit down with Telemundo and Univision for a joint interview at the White House, for broadcast that evening. He will be questioned by Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart, the brother of Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who is part of a bipartisan House reform group that has drafted legislation it hopes to unveil in February. Journalist Diaz-Balart will be joined by Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas.
It was during a similar interview in September that Obama found himself pummeled by Univision's anchors into conceding he broke this 2008 promise, emphatically issued in Denver: "But I can guarantee that we will have, in the first year, an immigration bill that I strongly support."
The president, one week after his inauguration, hopes to use the joint interview to assure Latinos that he is now keeping that promise.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and reform advocates have an ambitious timetable in mind that calls for enactment before lawmakers' August recess.
Between January and late summer, the drafting of bill language, House and Senate committee hearings, lobbying and media dissections, bill mark-ups, floor amendments and sticking points will likely challenge Obama's assertion Tuesday that "the question now is simple."
"Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government to finally put this issue behind us? I believe that we do. I believe that we do," he said. "I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp. But I promise you this: The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become."
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SOURCE: Real Clear Politics