By Mike Lillis
Accusing Republicans of killing the DREAM Act for political ends, President Obama this weekend vowed to renew the fight for passage after November's midterms.
"My hope is that after the election maybe some of the Republicans who previously had supported these measures will come back and come to their senses and recognize that this is the right thing to do," Obama said Saturday in an interview with Univision, a Spanish-language station, from the White House Rose Garden. "And I’m going to push very hard to see if we can get it done."
The Senate last week shot down the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act by a vote of 56 to 43. Every Republican — as well as Arkansas Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor — opposed the measure.
Both sides accused the other of playing politics with the vote. Republicans slammed the Democrats for attaching the DREAM Act language to a larger defense spending bill, while Democrats accused past GOP supporters — including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Robert Bennett (Utah) — of flip-flopping to deny the Democrats a political victory just before the midterms.
The DREAM Act would offer a pathway to citizenship for young adults with two years of college or military service. The benefits would apply to those who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years. To be eligible, applicants would have to have a high school diploma, or the equivalent, from a U.S. school.
"Maybe after this election," Obama said Saturday, "[Republicans] will come to their senses and say [that] instead of trying to play politics with this issue let’s try to solve the problem."
The president also defended his decision, as part of the new health reform law, to make undocumented immigrants ineligible to buy health insurance from state-based exchanges.
"We couldn’t cover all undocumented workers, there wasn’t the budget for it, and frankly the real solution there is make sure that they are legal," Obama said. "Once they are [legal] — if we can provide a pathway of citizenship for them — then they will be eligible for the same benefits as everybody else."
That issue was a thorny one throughout the months-long debate over healthcare reform. Indeed, when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) stirred a media storm last September with his "You lie!" outburst, it was in response to Obama's statement that “the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”
House Democrats had pushed to allow illegal immigrants to buy plans from the exchange as long as the purchase wasn't subsidized by taxpayers. The idea was that banning such purchases would likely force illegal immigrants into emergency rooms rather than encouraging them to get preventive treatments.
The provision was rejected by Senate Democrats as too politically poisonous.
Obama on Saturday also addressed the controversial new immigration law adopted by Arizona. Although the president was quick to slam the law as "a bad idea," he also noted that immigration is a national issue requiring national policies and solutions. The Arizona law, he conceded, is rooted in Washington's failure to act on a more comprehensive policy.
"Ultimately," he said, "the way we are going to be able to solve that is if we can in fact have a comprehensive law at the federal level that holds everybody responsible — holds the federal government responsible for securing the border; make sure that we are holding businesses responsible so that they don’t take advantage of undocumented workers; holds those workers responsible for paying their taxes, paying a fine, learning English, getting on pathway to citizenship.
"If we all come together, there is no reason why we can’t solve this problem."