Immigration reform still a possibility, says top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett
With new leadership in the House, the Obama administration thinks it may have a better chance of securing immigration reform, Valerie Jarrett says at a Monitor breakfast.
Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
The White House is holding out hope that immigration reform can still pass this year, bucking the conventional wisdom that the issue is all but dead for now. Â
â€śWe have an opportunity with a new team in place in the House to act,â€ť said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama, at a breakfastÂ FridayÂ hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.
On Thursday, House Republicans elected a new majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. He replaces Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who is stepping down next month from his leadership position after his surprise loss on June 10 in the GOP primary. Congressman Cantorâ€™s loss to a tea party-backed candidate was widely seen as dashing any remaining hopes of passing immigration reform, at least this year if not for the rest of Mr. Obamaâ€™s presidency.
Ms. Jarrett rejects that idea. Cantor himself has said he did not lose his primary because of immigration reform; polls back him up. But rank-and-file GOP members may still resist acting, given accusations that Cantor favored â€śamnestyâ€ť for unlawful immigrants.
House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio has long maintained he wants to solve the issue, but wanted his members to get through this yearâ€™s primaries first. He has also said he wants Obama to show that he can be â€śtrustedâ€ť â€“ and that meant not making any more unilateral moves on immigration. Obama has put on hold a review of immigration policy by the Department of Homeland Security.
â€śHe doesnâ€™t want to relieve them [the House] of their responsibility to act right now,â€ť says Jarrett. â€śAnd if he were to take action right now, they would use that as an excuse for not acting.â€ť
One year ago, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform with strong bipartisan support, but the bill has languished in the Republican-led House. Jarrett says public demand for reform will spur Congress to act.
â€śWhat I can tell is that there is a groundswell coming from around theÂ country, and I think that ultimately I am hopeful that that groundswellÂ has an impact on the House of Representatives,â€ť she says. â€śI think having heardÂ from voices like Rupert Murdoch should be helpful to the RepublicansÂ who are nervous.â€ť
Earlier this week, Jarrett discussed immigration reform with the conservative media mogul over dinner at the Blue Duck Tavern here in Washington â€“ an example of her outreach to the business community on the issue.
â€śGood policy sometimes makes strange bedfellows,â€ť Jarrett says. â€śI was very heartenedÂ by Rupert Murdochâ€™s passionate interest in immigration reform. He isÂ an immigrant himself. He understands from a business perspective howÂ important immigration reform would be to our economy.â€ť
On Wednesday, the Australian-born Murdoch published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, which he owns.
â€śI don't believe that people come to America to sit on their hands,â€ť Murdoch wrote. â€śThe vast majority of America's immigrants are hardworking, family-minded individuals with strong values.â€ť
Analysts say that Republicans need to move on immigration reform to attract Latino votes, or their prospects in the 2016 presidential election will be limited. The issue is less important in this Novemberâ€™s midterms.
Jarrett repeated the presidentâ€™s view, that he is open to seeing the House pass individual pieces of legislation, instead of one big bill, â€śas long as they add up to a whole.â€ť
â€śWhat we wouldnâ€™t want to see is just aÂ piece of legislation on border security and high tech immigrationÂ without focusing on the path to citizenship for the 11 million peopleÂ who are here, and other provisions,â€ť says Jarrett. â€śAnd so in a sense he leaves it toÂ the House to put [out] a proposal, which we are still waiting to see, for whatÂ that piecemeal, if you will, path might be.â€ť