President Obama won't say who would be a more challenging Republican contender, but he does says all of the remaining GOP candidates are wrong on immigration.
"Whether it's [Mitt] Romney or [Newt] Gingrich or [Rick] Santorum or whoever else they might decide to select, they represent a fundamentally different vision of America. And it's not the bold, generous, forward-looking, optimistic America that I think built this country," Mr. Obama told Univision on Wednesday in an interview released Thursday.
While Republican candidates hone their message to Hispanic voters in Florida and trade barbs in Spanish, Mr. Obama took time out of his post-State of the Union campaign-style swing through five states to sit down with Univision to discuss the most pressing issues to the Hispanic community, voters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 by a 2-to-1 margin over Sen. John McCain but are less enthusiastic about the president this time around.
Responding to a question focused on Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich, the president said the policies they're espousing on the campaign trail directly contradict his top priorities, highlighting his differing views on health care and immigration.
The differences are particularly stark, Mr. Obama said, when it comes to the Dream Act, which would grant conditional residency for children of illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for five years and have met other criteria such as serving in the military or attending college.
"They believe that we should actually make the tax code more unequal. They believe that we should not provide a pathway to citizenship for young people who were brought here when they were very young children, and are basically American kids, but right now are still in a shadow," he said, noting that Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich have said they would veto the Dream Act.
"They both believe that we should repeal a health care law that stands to provide millions of Latinos who work every single day the opportunity to make sure that they've got health insurance."
A new Univision/ABC poll shows most Hispanics still support Mr. Obama but at lower levels than in previous years. Fifty-three percent said they are less excited about the president's performance than in recent years — in part because they feel he didn't keep his promise to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Reflecting on the poll results, Mr. Obama said there's nothing he can do to pass immigration reform without Republican votes in Congress, especially those who supported an overhaul but have since changed their minds.
"A lot of Republicans who used to support comprehensive immigration reform decided that it was bad politics and they wouldn't support it anymore," he said. "So this is the kind of barrier that we're meeting in Congress. We're just going to keep on pushing and pushing until hopefully we finally get a break."
When asked why his administration has deported 1.2 million illegal immigrants — more than under any other regime — Mr. Obama pointed to Congress increasing the money allocated for enforcement rather than take credit for enforcing the law.
"First of all, the fact is Congress allocates this money," he said. "That means that there are additional enforcement mechanisms out there. Whoever was president, you were going to see some increase in terms of enforcement."
After being asked more directly why so many deportations are needed, Mr. Obama said, "because that's the law that's on the book right now," at one point saying he can't just "wave away the laws that Congress put in place."
That's "the way our system works — the president doesn't have the authority to simply ignore Congress and say, 'We're not going to enforce the laws that you've passed,'" he said.
Instead, the president said the administration has decided to prioritize illegal immigrants who have committed crimes and has steadily increased the number of criminals deported.
"What we do have the ability to do, and what we have systematically done, is to use our administrative authority to prioritize and say, 'Let's not focus on Dream Act kids,'" he said. "Until we get comprehensive immigration reform, there's going to continue to be heartbreaking stories. That's what we're trying to change.
"But ultimately the way we change it is we've got to change our politics. And that's why I talked about it at the State of the Union, and that's why I'm going to keep on talking about it."
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Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at email@example.com.
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