POLITICO: President and Faith Leaders Working to "Raise The Moral Imperative for Immigration Reform"
President Barack Obama gave immigration reform advocates a simple message Wednesday: Don’t let Obamacare get you down.
In an Oval Office meeting with eight Christian faith leaders, the president said he remains engaged on immigration legislation and hopes the reform effort can get a fair hearing despite his other political problems, several faith leaders told POLITICO.
“He said he doesn't want other debates that are going on to hurt this,” said Jim Wallis, the president and CEO of the Christian social justice agency Sojourners. “He doesn't want all the other debates going on to prevent this from passing. It’s caught up in all the other debates and he wants this to be looked at on his own merits.”
Obama’s exhortation came during a meeting just hours before his administration released the first batch of Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers – a figure the White House had for weeks telegraphed as far lower than expected.
Much of Obama’s Oval Office conversation with the faith leaders, Biden and top aides Valerie Jarrett, Cecilia Munoz and Melissa Rogers centered around the idea that contemporary Washington politics is blocking reform efforts, the faith leaders said.
Obama, they said, didn’t make a direct ask for them to press Congress to back the reform effort, as Vice President Joe Biden implored Catholic leaders to do during a call Tuesday night. Instead he asked for their input on how the current immigration system is harming their communities and echoed the urgency to pass reform legislation by the end of the year.
But with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announcing earlier in the day that he has “no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” it was clear to all in the room that immigration reform has lost momentum it had after the Senate immigration bill passed.
“This can be a companion issue that also deserves some attention because we’ve come so far on this issue and we can’t let it get lost in the battle du jour,” said Joel Hunter, the senior pastor at Northland Church in suburban Orlando. “I think all of us are hoping that the headlines of the daily accusations don’t bury what is a very important and urgent issue in our time.”
And still, Obama told the faith leaders he remains optimistic there will be progress by the end of December.
“I did get the sense that he was wanting to reassure us that this is a priority for him,” said Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “He actually does want to work with Congress to get a bill, not to just to have an issue.”
White House officials declined to comment on specifics of the meeting. In an official readout, the White House said Obama once again blamed House Republicans for blocking a vote.
“The president and the leaders discussed their shared commitment to raise the moral imperative for immigration reform and said they will continue keeping the pressure on Congress so they can swiftly pass commonsense reform,” the statement said. “The president commended the faith leaders for their tireless efforts in sharing their stories with Congress. He noted there is no reason for House Republicans to continue to delay action on this issue that has garnered bipartisan support.
Moore, a conservative evangelical leader, said he warned Obama not to make immigration a partisan political issue.
“I did say to the president that I think he needs to take seriously that the Republicans in Congress are operating out of what I believe to be good motives and that there needs to be a sense of cooperation and not divisiveness on this issue,” Moore said. “I think that was well received. I think the president seemed to indicate that that’s what he wants to do.”
Wallis said there was a discussion during the meeting that the upcoming holiday season could give a boost to the reform efforts as families and churches gather.
“The holiday season now happens to be coming in the end game. Here are the holidays, religious holidays, maybe there is something there,” Wallis said. “We are hearing a president say, ‘I don’t want politics to prevent this. How can we transcend and reach people to make this not just political. What can you do to help us get this beyond the politics?’”
Biden on Tuesday night told Catholic officials to make their opinions known forcefully to House Republicans. He said they can’t repeat the mistakes of the gun control fight, when opponents of expanding background checks on gun purchases outnumbered White House allies in calls and e-mails to senators debating the legislation.
“Thank the representatives when you call who are already in favor of reform, especially the 32 Republicans who have expressed for a path to citizenship,” Biden said. “Give them a little bit of love and appeal to their better angels, the better angels of those who are still on the fence to take a politically courageous decision.”
Hunter said the push will require some help from the public to spur House Republican leadership to call a vote.
“We think that the votes are there and we think it is tricky for folks to vote the way they want to,” Hunter said. “They just need some momentum from the public in order to have the justification for voting the way they already want to.”
The Wednesday morning meeting ended with Obama asking Moore to offer a prayer for him and the country. He added a blessing for the Congress.
“I prayed for wisdom and discernment,” Moore said. “I prayed also for our congressional leaders and for God’s blessing on the country.”
By Reid J. Epstein. Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/11/obama-obamacare-problems-immigration-99834.html