President Obama sounded a more conciliatory note on immigration Thursday, a day after he issued a statement criticizing House Republicans for “extreme” votes on the issue and angering a top GOP lawmaker who said it further poisoned chances for a bill to get done this year.
Mr. Obama also gave more details about the current review of his deportation policies that he asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to conduct, with the president saying it’s one final chance to see whether there are more illegal immigrants he can legally deem unworthy of deportation.
“We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could. We’re going to review it one more time to see if there’s more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with, I think, the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn’t be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding,” the president said at an afternoon news conference.
On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor issued a stinging statement accusing the president of being two-faced, for issuing a statement around noon attacking the GOP and then later that same day reaching out to Mr. Cantor by phone to ask for cooperation.
But while the statements back and forth may have been harsh, Mr. Obama said Wednesday’s phone call wasn’t.
“You’re always kind of surprised by the mismatch between press releases and the conversation,” the president said. “I wished him happy Passover. And what I said to him privately is something that I would share with him — that I’ve said publicly, which is there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform.”
Mr. Obama has been trying to strike a difficult balance for the first five years of his administration, assuring conservatives in Congress he is enforcing the immigration laws by setting deportation records, even as he tells immigrant-rights advocates he’s not targeting rank-and-file illegal immigrants without criminal records.
Recently, however, those two pledges have begun to conflict. Deportation numbers have dropped, angering conservatives, while immigration activists have come up with a number of examples of people facing deportation who, the activists say, deserve to be allowed to stay in the country
In an interview with Fusion earlier this week, a top Obama adviser seemed to suggest there was little room to carve out more people from danger of deportation. She said anger at the system should be directed at Republicans.
Activists reacted angrily.
“President Obama is legally capable of broad executive action independent of the continued inaction of Congress, and every day that he waits, another 1,000 people are added to his tarnished legacy among the immigrant community,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream.
Mr. Obama declined to set deadlines for Mr. Johnson’s review of deportation policies, but said the review involved “consultation with Democrats and Republicans and with any interested party.”
Mr. Obama has held meetings with immigrant-rights activists and bipartisan groups of lawmakers in Congress who support his stance. But he has not met with the immigration agents from Homeland Security, who oppose his policies.