By Carol E. Lee
Under fire from immigration reform supporters who say he’s not moving fast enough, President Barack Obama said Monday he expects to have a draft immigration bill in Congress by year’s end — but that lawmakers wouldn’t begin to seriously debate the issue until next year.
He acknowledged that the fight for comprehensive reform would be difficult, saying, “Am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No. . . . There are going to be demagogues out there who try to suggest that any form of pathway for legalization for those who are already in the United States is unacceptable.”
Obama also predicted that Congress would pass his health reform bill later this year when more “sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge” — a clear reference to the increasingly heated attacks being leveled against his overhaul plan by opponents.
Obama brushed back a suggestion from a New York Times reporter that the “blows” he’s suffering in the health-care debate would weaken him too much to take on another massive legislative fight on immigration reform heading into the 2010 midterm elections.
“I anticipate we'll do just fine” in the midterms, Obama said. “And I think when all is said on health care reform, the American people are going to be glad that we acted to change an unsustainable system so that more people have coverage.”
On immigration, he added, “Those are fights that I'd have to have if my poll numbers are at 70 or if my poll numbers are at 40. That's just the nature of the U.S. immigration debate. But ultimately I think the American people want fairness.”
Immigration reform supporters have grown increasingly vocal in criticizing what some see as foot-dragging by Obama on the contentious issue — which President George W. Bush tried in his second term, only to see it fail and cause deep divisions within his own party. Obama’s comments Monday amounted to a firmer timetable than he has set down in the past and came at the end of a summit with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts here.
He spoke in similar terms about immigration and health reform, calling both a national imperative required to fix an unsustainable system. “We have a broken immigration system. Nobody denies it,” Obama said.