Obama uses Univision, Telemundo to press case for immigration reform

President Obama sat down for interviews with four Spanish-language television stations on Tuesday, as the White House looked to increase pressure on House Republicans to pass immigration reform.

The president hoped the interviews, granted to Univision and Telemundo stations in Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and New York, would help sell a comprehensive reform package at risk of stalling in the GOP-controlled House.

Reporters for the Spanish-language networks were also given “behind-the-scenes access to the White House and the president’s top advisers,” and would broadcast Tuesday evening from a special location on the South Lawn, the White House said. During the daily White House briefing, press secretary Jay Carney broke from normal procedure to make sure he called on two Spanish-language journalists visiting the White House.

In the interviews, the president conceded that, despite pressure from the Senate and White House, he doesn’t expect the House to pass an immigration reform bill before the August recess. He had demanded earlier this year that Congress finish work “by the end of summer.”

“I don’t think that we’re gonna see it before the August recess,” Obama told Telemundo. “That was originally my hope and my goal, and if, in fact, the House recognized the smart thing, the right thing to do was to go ahead and send the Senate bill to the floor for a vote, I think it would pass tomorrow.”

The president quipped that “the House has been struggling with a lot of legislation lately,” attributing Republican reluctance to passing immigration reform with concerns it could bring in a wave of likely Democratic voters. 

“You have, I think, some in the House who believe that immigration will encourage further demographic changes, and that may not be good for them politically,” Obama said.

The president looked to rally opposition to the piecemeal approach favored by House Republicans, saying, “We need to, I think, do this as a complete package.”

“The danger of doing it in pieces is that a lot of groups want different things,” Obama said. “And, you know, there’s a tendency, I think, to put off the hard stuff until the end. And if you’ve eaten your dessert before you’ve eaten your meal, at least with my children, sometimes they don’t end up eating their vegetables.”

In a joint statement released after a closed-door meeting with members last week, Republican leadership members said they were committed to a “step-by-step, common-sense approach.”

In interviews with Univision, the president reiterated that a pathway to citizenship “needs to be part of the bill.” Some Republican lawmakers have suggested that a compromise could be struck by offering legal status, but not full citizenship, to the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

But the president said he was hopeful a compromise deal could “happen in the fall.”

“We need to just go ahead and get this done,” Obama said. “I know it’s tough. I know the Republican House members are wrestling with it. Many of their constituencies are suspicious of what immigration might mean for their political futures in some cases. But, you know, one of the things that I know from traveling all around the world is that part of what makes America special is that we attract talent from everywhere, and we wanna make sure that continues to be the case.”

The interviews represent a shift for the White House, which has thus far kept a behind-the-scenes role in the battle over immigration reform amid worries that a heavy-handed, campaign-style approach could spook Republicans crucial to the bill’s success. 

There have been signs, however, that the president has been looking to increase his role in recent weeks, as concern mounts that legislation could stall in the House.

Over the weekend, senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer told The Associated Press that “there might be a moment where the hammer comes out, but we’re not there yet” on immigration.

Carney, for his part, argued Tuesday that “the idea that we’re staying out of it is a fallacy.”

“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,” he said. 

It’s unclear whether Obama will go on the road to push immigration reform.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who visited the White House last week said that the president was weighing a barnstorming trip around the country. The White House, though, has refused to confirm those plans, saying merely that it is under consideration.

On Thursday, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), two authors of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill, wouldn’t comment directly on reports that the president was considering travel. 

The senators also said the president realized he needed to bring GOP members onboard.

“I believe the president, as a result of our meetings, will be respectful,” McCain said. “The challenge here is to get Republican members.”

— Published at 6:08 p.m. and updated at 8:46 p.m.