Jake Tapper got an exclusive interview with Barack Obama for CNN, which will air today, but CNN is already teasing some of the highlights and a short exchange on jobs. More intriguing, however, is an apparent concession on immigration. Despite his years-long insistence on path to citizenship being part of any comprehensive reform package, Obama praised the Republican effort in the House and backed away from that demand:
The one area where Obama says he believes he can work with Republicans is on the subject of immigration and the path to citizenship, a cornerstone issue for Democrats.
The major sticking point between Democrats and Republicans will likely be whether or not the estimated 11 million undocumented workers in this country be given a path to citizenship. Obama refused to say whether he would veto a bill that did not contain such a provision; it is likely that House Republicans would not pass any bill that included a path to citizenship.
“I’m not going to prejudge what gets to my desk,” he said.
On Thursday, House Republicans released a one-page document that outlined what they called the standards of immigration reform, which calls for legal status, but not citizenship.
That’s not to say that he’s going to stop talking about the path to citizenship entirely, but it no longer sounds like a non-negotiable point:
“I think the principle that we don’t want two classes of people in America is a principle that a lot of people agree with, not just me and not just Democrats. But I am encouraged by what Speaker (John) Boehner has said,” Obama said.
“… I genuinely believe that Speaker Boehner and a number of House Republicans, folks like Paul Ryan, really do want to get a serious immigration reform bill done. And keep in mind that the Senate bill and the legislation that I’ve supported already calls for a very long process of earning citizenship. You had to pay fines. You had to learn English. You had to pay back taxes. And you had to go to the back of the line. And at the end of that, you could get citizenship.”
The “I’m not going to prejudge what gets to my desk” line is silly. All Presidents pre-judge bills before they get to desks, and they usually take steps to prevent bills they dislike from getting there. The inboxes of journalists are filled with White House statements on bills that haven’t even come up for a vote, threatening vetoes if they pass (or expressing presidential support for the bills they like). If Obama wanted to stick to his guns on the path to citizenship, he’d make that clear now.
Obama actually has a point about creating classes of residents through bans on citizenship. As Allahpundit and Greg Sargent noted yesterday, though, we’re not talking about bans, but the elimination of a special process for the currently illegal. Obama’s earlier insistence on special paths to citizenship created its own class of people who were both illegal and had an inside track to citizenship through regularization. We already have a path to citizenship called “naturalization,” and there’s no reason to create a fast-track path for others who entered illegally. In that sense, the GOP statement makes more sense than previous proposals, and doesn’t put the currently illegal in front of those who are already waiting for naturalization.
It still moves them ahead for legal residency over those waiting to enter, though, no matter how one parses it. That would be worthwhile if — and this is a huge if — we actually secure the borders through proven and verifiable barrier technology and other efforts and overhaul the visa system to track people accurately when they overstay or otherwise violate the applicable terms. A deal which doesn’t deliver that should be rejected out of hand. Period.
As for the timing, Allahpundit wondered why the GOP didn’t just do this last year to allow the anger from grassroots groups to die off before the election. I suspect that the timing was to make sure that opposition to comprehensive immigration reform didn’t generate funding for primary challengers early enough in the cycle to become serious threats by the spring of 2014. But then again, I’m cynical that way — even if I do think that a swap of regularization for true border security and visa-system overhaul is a good deal that benefits national security much more than it damages anything else.
Here’s a glimpse of the interview with Tapper, which talks more about jobs than immigration. Note that the unspoken context of the discussion of the chronically unemployed is the failure of the big-government intervention of the stimulus, as Obama talks about … more big-government intervention.