President Obama on Tuesday intensified his summer campaign to pressure House Republicans to approve immigration reform, conducting interviews with several Spanish-language television anchors while his spokesman boasted that the Senate wouldn’t have passed a bill without the president’s leadership.
At the White House, Mr. Obama granted interviews to Spanish-speaking newscasters from Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and New York as he sought to raise the heat on House lawmakers to accept the heart of Senate-passed legislation that would grant a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s approximately 11 million illegal immigrants.
In the 2012 presidential election, 70 percent of Hispanic voters supported Mr. Obama, who promised to complete immigration reform in his second term. And on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president has been instrumental in getting the legislation through the Senate.
“We wouldn’t be where we are with a bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support if it hadn’t been for the role the president played,” Mr. Carney told reporters. He quickly added that his view was “not to diminish” the role of the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” which drafted the legislation. He said their role was “vital.”
“They crafted the legislation that met the principles the president set,” Mr. Carney said.
Matt Barreto, a University of Washington professor who conducts regular polling of Hispanic voters, said Mr. Obama is in a stronger position now than in his first term.
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“In the first term, that was the big question mark — is he really trying to push immigration reform forward? We didn’t see much evidence of that,” said Mr. Barreto, a principal of the Latino Decisions polling organization. “But now we have a bill. If the bill fails at this point, our polling is showing pretty consistently that Latino voters would blame the Republican Party.”
Republican leaders have acknowledged the implications at the polls if immigration reform collapses, and some have said they are eager to compete more effectively for the Hispanic vote.
But Mr. Barreto said the president still must be careful not to be too obvious about the pressure he’s exerting on House Republicans, because such a tactic could backfire with their conservative constituents.
“Obviously it’s a delicate balance,” he said. “He doesn’t want to put too much pressure because that could create backlash from Republicans.”
The president doesn’t find himself on the defensive about immigration reform, as he did in his first term. Before he even became president, Mr. Obama promised in an interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos that he would be strongly promoting a bill in his first year in office.
“I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days,” Mr. Obama said in May 2008. “But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting.”
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That didn’t happen, as Mr. Obama confronted a deep recession in 2009 and then decided to devote much of his energy to getting his health care law through Congress. As a result, he was accused by Mr. Ramos and others of breaking his promise on immigration.
But with the Senate bill completed, the focus is squarely on House Republicans, whom Mr. Barreto said can’t afford to block legislation if they hope to win over some Hispanic voters for the long term.
“It is the Republicans’ problem,” Mr. Barreto said. “The Democrats are trying to get the bill done. Jorge Ramos is on TV every day saying the Republicans are blocking this bill.”
After a meeting last week, House Republicans emerged with a strategy that includes raising questions about Mr. Obama’s commitment to enforcing border security. The Senate’s immigration bill includes $40 billion toward additional security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Given the persistent opposition among many House Republicans, Mr. Obama’s task of persuasion is “very difficult,” Mr. Barreto said.
“He needs to make [House Republicans] believe that they’re going to be in even worse standing and going to hurt the party’s reputation if they continue to stall or delay or block the bill,” he said. “I do believe that [House Speaker] John Boehner and [Majority leader] Eric Cantor and [Budget Committee Chairman] Paul Ryan and a couple of the more mainstream Republicans in the caucus are persuaded by the national reputation of the party and the future implications for the party nationally. The more that Obama is perceived as the hero and the more that the GOP is perceived as the villains on Spanish-language TV, the more that John Boehner’s going to be inspired to try to move the bill. They don’t want to concede any ground.”