President Obama took the podium at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Friday to discuss his executive actions on immigration reform, displaying a vigor usually reserved for campaign speeches. And it seemed he was in campaign mode -- not for office, but for Congress to move forward on comprehensive immigration legislation.
The president’s speech covered many of the same points he laid out in his Thursday evening televised announcement, including an extension of temporary deportation relief to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. The move, he said, was a way to bring fairness to the system, requiring undocumented immigrants to “play by the rules” in order to avoid the threat of deportation. But he also played up Congress’ failure to take up the Senate bill on comprehensive reform first passed -- with bipartisan support -- in 2013.
“The Senate bill wasn’t perfect,” he said. “It was a compromise. That’s how things work in Congress, a democracy. Not everyone was satisfied with every provision, but it was a good, solid, commonsense bill that would have made the immigration system better.”
Congressional Republicans, who will soon dominate both houses, are attacking Obama’s immigration orders as an overreach of executive authority. House Speaker John Boehner warned that the House “will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk,” and has said that executive action would sabotage any chances of passing comprehensive reform.
But Obama, who faced a blistering defeat for the Democratic Party after the midterm elections, is now staring the Republicans down, simultaneously putting pressure on lawmakers to pass a bill and framing any failure to do so as the GOP’s responsibility.
“I told John Boehner, ‘You know, I’ll wash your car. I’ll walk your dog. Whatever you need to do. Just pass the bill.’ That’s how democracy is supposed to work,” Obama said.
"Nobody is stopping them from passing a bill,” he added, as the crowd erupted into chants of “Pass a bill! Pass a bill!” He questioned the logic that executive action might threaten the chances for comprehensive reform: "Why? I didn’t dissolve Parliament, that’s not how our system works. I didn’t steal away the various clerks in the House who manage bills. They can still pass a bill.” Within minutes, #PassABill began trending on Twitter.
That bill, known as S. 744, has stalled in the House all year as House Republicans vehemently disagreed with some of its provisions. The bill would have created a pathway to legal status for an estimated 8 million undocumented immigrants, in addition to streamlining the processes for employment- and family-based visas.
While the audience at Del Sol High School cheered the president on, one heckler interrupted the speech, saying the executive orders did not allow enough people to qualify for relief. Farmworkers and parents of children who arrived in the U.S. as children and received relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were excluded from Obama’s executive orders.
“That’s right, not everybody will qualify under this provision,” Obama said. “That’s the truth. That’s why we’re still going to have to pass a bill.”