President Obama’s speech Tuesday outlining his blueprint for immigration reform offered a strong commitment to fixing a broken system, even going so far as to deliver this ultimatum to lawmakers: "If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.”
Obama’s remarks are in stark contrast to previous speeches in which he called for immigration reform but provided little evidence that he would exercise the political muscle necessary to get such a deal. This time, the president offered both.
I think Obama’s pledge to put a bill before lawmakers if Republicans and Democrats fail to reach their own is a very real and powerful threat. Democrats don’t want to lose ground with Latino voters, labor and other groups who support overhauling the current system.
And the GOP is facing mounting pressure to recast its brand with Latinos, who overwhelmingly cast their votes for Obama in key states such as Florida and Nevada after Mitt Romney unveiled his "self-deportation" fantasy -- created in some alternative universe where immigrants who are here illegally, and already enduring tough lives, would simply pack up and leave if only life became too hard for them in this country. In fact, it’s almost as if Republicans need an immigration reform bill as much as undocumented immigrants do.
Some suggest that Obama’s threat to put forth his own legislation may do more harm than good in the fight to fix immigration. But that ignores that the president let Congress take the lead on most of his legislative initiatives, including healthcare reform, and that didn’t help build consensus or prevent Republicans from mounting fierce challenges.
The political moment seems right for comprehensive immigration reform that tackles the big issues. Let’s just hope that Congress seizes the moment.