President Obama said Monday that Congress would not be able to pass an immigration bill until next year, acknowledging that more pressing items on his agenda have crowded out the issue.
That’s a departure from what he promised Hispanic rights groups during the campaign, but Mr. Obama, speaking at a joint news conference with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, said he doesn’t want his efforts on health care, global warming and the financial crisis to be hampered by another major issue.
“I’ve got a lot on my plate, and it’s very important for us to sequence these big initiatives in a way where they don’t all just crash at the same time,” he said.
He said he has asked his administration to hold meetings on immigration in the intervening period so that when Congress meets next year “we should be in a position to start acting.”
The president began his term pursuing a full plate of big-ticket policy issues, but his comments Monday suggested that he has recognized the practical benefits of focusing on one major initiative at a time.
Among the initiatives on his agenda, he said, is energy legislation that has passed the House but awaits action in the Senate, and financial-regulatory reform that he said was needed to head off another crisis. “That’s a pretty big stack of bills,” he said.
Right now, though, the issue that is dominating his time is health care reform.
Speaking at a news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mr. Obama vowed to get his health care overhaul passed.
The president was asked whether the Canadian health care system would emerge as a model for the overhaul, and Mr. Obama said it would not. The health systems in the two countries have “evolved differently,” he said, and so he argued that a uniquely American approach was required.
“I suspect that you Canadians will continue to get dragged in by those who oppose reform, even though I’ve said nothing about Canadian health care reform. I don’t find Canadians particularly scary, but I guess some of the opponents of reform think that they make a good bogeyman,” Mr. Obama added.
Mr. Obama also told reporters that he supports Mr. Calderon’s efforts to fight drug cartels and said the leaders are working together to ensure that North America’s economy thrives.
The pledge to act on immigration next year was intended to reassure immigrant rights groups. Many had begun raising concerns as the administration embraced enforcement policies such as allowing local police to enforce immigration laws or requiring worker-verification systems.
But the delay is a clear departure from the promise Mr. Obama, then a senator, made in July 2008 at the four-day National Council of La Raza convention, which attracted more than 20,000 people to the San Diego Convention Center.
“I think it’s time for a president who won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform just because it becomes politically unpopular,” the Illinois senator said. “I will make it a top priority in my first year as the president of the United States of America.”
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, criticized the president for backtracking.
“I am disappointed he has changed his tune,” Mr. Cornyn said. “Immigration reform is long overdue and belongs on President Obama’s full plate.”
Mr. Obama supports a broad bill that would legalize undocumented immigrants and put them on a path to citizenship. He voted for the 2006 immigration bill, which passed the Senate but never saw action in the House, and for the 2007 bill, which was defeated in the Senate.