WASHINGTON – President Obama said that the bipartisan group of senators working on immigration legislation was following a “reasonable timeline” and suggested he would push to get a bill passed in the first half of the year.
In a pair of interviews the day after kicking off his public campaign for immigration reform, Obama told the Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo that he would put the weight of his office – and his bully pulpit – behind the effort.
“I can guarantee that I will put everything I’ve got behind it,” Obama told Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart. “We’re putting our shoulder to the wheel.”
Obama began that effort Tuesday with a speech outlining his top priorities for a bill, including a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants currently living in the country illegally. But Obama also encouraged the group of senators crafting compromise legislation and said their principles were in line with his own.
Still, the president aimed to put the Senate on a clock and threatened to send up his own legislation if the process didn’t move ahead in a “timely fashion.”
Obama said Wednesday that the senators’ aim to propose legislation by March fit his definition of timely.
“The important point here is that we’ve been working on this for a long time. We know what the issues are,” Obama told Telemundo. “I’m hopeful that this can get done, and I don’t think that it should take many, many months. I think this is something that we should be able to get done certainly this year, and I’d like to see if we can get it done sooner, in the first half of the year if possible.”
As he did Tuesday, Obama continued to downplay the differences between his blueprint and the Senate proposals and kept his distance from the more contentious details of the Senate proposal.
“What I’m going to do is allow the Senate to work on these details,” Obama told Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas.
Still, early sticking points have emerged. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a key member of the group, has said the pathway to citizenship must be contingent upon border security, a notion the president argued against Wednesday.
“What we don’t want to do is to create some vague prospect in the future that somehow comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship will happen, you know, mañana,” Obama told Univision.
In both interviews, the president argued that he had already taken steps to tighten border security and crack down on illegal crossings. Some of the administration’s tactics, particularly a surge in deportations, have been sharply criticized by many in the immigrant rights community.
Obama defended his administration’s actions.
“I make no apologies for us enforcing the law, as well as the work that we’ve done to strengthen border security,” Obama told Telemundo. The “vast majority of those being deported are criminals, but there are still obviously going to be people who get caught up in the system and ... that’s heartbreaking. But that’s why we’re pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.”
The president did not directly answer a question about whether he planned to put a Latino politician in his Cabinet. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been mentioned as a possible prospect.
His second-term Cabinet was still a work in progress, Obama said, but placing representatives from every ethnic group in his administration was “one of my highest priorities ... because now I’m thinking about legacy.”