Obama won’t promise immigration reform

President Barack Obama on Thursday would not commit to passing immigration reform this year, and a senior White House aide indicated the issue does not top the president’s priority list.

Obama met with several activists at the White House on Thursday and told one participant he would like to see bipartisan support to get something done, but he would not promise to pursue legislation this year.

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Last summer, Obama vowed to pursue immigration reform in 2010.

Obama held three meetings on the politically sensitive topic — one with activists, one with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and one with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who are working on bipartisan legislation.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that while immigration and a new comprehensive energy bill are important to Obama, they are not the president’s focus in this election year.

Instead, Gibbs pointed to new financial regulations and changing the law to prevent unlimited corporate campaign interests as the “big priorities for the president after we get healthcare done.”

“We’ve got important elections coming up. And the question is, are the special interests going to ... play a bigger role in those with their contributions than they normally would?” Gibbs said.

Additionally, Gibbs said there is “a series of legislative activities around tax credits for small business and hiring, small- business lending and different job-creation programs that the president is focused on.”

Gibbs said Obama was “anxious” to hear an update from Schumer and Graham about where bipartisan immigration reform stands on Capitol Hill.

Gibbs said the immigration system is “unworkable and unsustainable,” but it will take a significant bipartisan effort to get something passed.

“It’s got to be more than ‘The president wants to get something done,’ ” Gibbs said. “That’s what’s going to be key to moving any of these issues forward.”

Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said after the meeting that he is hopeful reform will be passed this year, but he said Obama would not promise the participants that will be the case.

Medina said the next three to four months are critical to getting something passed, but he acknowledged there is not enough bipartisan support for such a measure.

“I think we have substantial support, but not enough yet,” Medina said.

Other activists, however, walked away from the meeting more hopeful.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum and chairman of the Reform Immigration for America Campaign, said the activists pressed Obama to get something done soon.

“The president indicated that his administration is committed to driving a bill forward in the spring of 2010,” Noorani said in a statement. “Based on our conversation, we are optimistic and expecting aggressive and urgent action from the White House on comprehensive immigration reform before March 21.”

One Hispanic Democratic strategist said that while the political climate is too perilous to push for healthcare, Obama is buying some breathing room with the Hispanic community by holding meetings at the White House.

“Symbolism is important on this issue,” the strategist said.

He added: “The president could not have won the presidency without Hispanics. He made some bold promises to the community.”

To that end, the strategist said, Obama was making a smart move in telling Hispanic leaders and activists that while healthcare reform is dominating the agenda, he is giving some attention to the issue.