Politics
President Barack Obama speaks during an event at the White House in Washington Feb. 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque) President Barack Obama speaks during an event at the White House in Washington Feb. 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)  

Obama urges GOP to ignore political pain, vote for immigration bill

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama Friday highlighted the pain and trauma that GOP legislators would suffer for backing an immigration bill that legalizes roughly 12 million Democratic-leaning illegal immigrants.

“There are folks on the other side of the aisle who genuinely want to see this done, but they’re worried and they’re scared about the political blowback,” Obama told Democrats gathered for their closed-door strategy session in Cambridge, Md.

In recent days, GOP leaders, including House Speaker John Boenher have suggested they won’t push for passage of an immigration bill this year. That walk-back was welcomed by GOP senators hoping to gain a majority in November, but was angrily denounced by progressives and Latino lobbies.

Obama suggested that Republicans leaders stop hiding their support for a proposal that would benefit illegal immigrants. “Everybody here is an elected official and we can all appreciate the maneuverings that take place, particularly in an election year. But when it comes to immigration reform, we have to remind ourselves that there are people behind the statistics, that there are lives that are being impacted,” he said.

And then he complimented Democrats for pushing for the bill. ”The good thing is [illegal immigrants have] got some outstanding members of Congress who are willing to fight for them regardless of the political cost, starting with your leader Nancy Pelosi,” he declared.

“Punting and putting things off for another year, another two years, another three years, it hurts people,” Obama said. A bill would get “people out of the shadows,” he said.

Some Republican legislators fear that GOP leaders are still planning to suddenly push a business-backed bill that would increase the inflow of immigrant workers and also provide an amnesty to illegal immigrants who meet a certain list of requirements.

Obama said an immigration rewrite would help the economy, but he buried the point under praise for Democrats’ support of immigrants, who are a vital portion of Obama’s “majority of minorities” coalition. ”Part of what I’d like to think makes us Democrats is not simply some abstract ideological set of beliefs, but the fact that we’re reminded every single day that we’re here to help a whole bunch of folks out there — our neighbors, our friends, our communities — who are struggling still and need our help,” he said.

Obama’s claimed, but didn’t tout, possible economic benefits of immigration. ”There are some big things that we have to do that I cannot do through executive action where we have to get Congress and where the American people are on our side … [including] making sure that we’ve got a smart immigration policy in this country that grows our economy … [and] makes sure that our businesses are thriving.”

A June Congressional Budget Office report said that the Senate immigration bill would nudge up unemployment, and lower average wages for low-skilled workers and for university-trained professionals for 10 years. The bill would also shift more of the nation’s economy away from wage earners and toward investors for 20 years, the CBO reported. Other reports show that large-scale immigration reduces wages earned by blue-collar and middle-class Americans.

Fifty-percent of swing voters and 51 percent of all voters oppose the bill to triple immigration over 10 years, a recent Rasmussen poll found

Passage of an immigration bill "has got to be a top priority," Obama told the Democratic legislators. "We're going to have to keep on working on that."

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