NALEO Conference: Obama trumpets immigration move in appeal for Latino support
The president hit his Republican opponent Mitt Romney for opposing the DREAM Act, but didn’t mention him once by name.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — President Obama offered a vigorous defense of his decision to halt deportations for many young undocumented immigrants in his most direct appeal for Latino votes to date, saying “it was the right thing to do.”
Speaking Friday before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), Obama contrasted his views on immigration, healthcare, and the economy with his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, who spoke at the conference just one day before in an attempt to mend his image with Latinos.
The most notable example of that was on Obama’s directive to stop deportations for undocumented youth who would be eligible for a path to citizenship under the DREAM Act, legislation which has been stalled in Congress for years.
“I’ve said time and again send me the DREAM Act, I’ll sign it right away,” Obama said.
“Your speaker from yesterday has a different view. In his speech he when he makes a promise to you, he’ll keep it. Well has promised to veto the DREAM Act. And we should take him at his word,” said Obama, who didn’t mention Romney once by name. “I’m just saying.”
Underscoring his wide lead among Latino voters in the polls, the audience here demonstrated greater enthusiasm for Obama than they did Romney, offering the president multiple standing ovations and cheers before his address.
Obama appeared to riff off the man who spoke just before him, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who accused the president of playing politics with immigration, an issue he said is much more complex than politicians make it out to be.
But Obama responded that the solutions for the nation’s broken immigration system have not changed in the past half-decade since President George W. Bush tried and failed to pass a sweeping reform bill.
“The bill hadn’t changed,” Obama said. “The only thing that had changed was politics.
“I refuse to keep looking young people in the eye — deserving young people in the eye and tell them ‘tough luck, the politics is too hard,’” he added.
The Romney campaign responded that Obama’s record does not match his words on the economy and immigration.
“President Obama has demonstrated that he would rather change the subject than talk about our nation’s suffering economy, but we won’t be fooled by the shell games and the last minute political gimmickry. President Obama is playing to distract from his record,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a member of Romney’s Hispanic leadership team.
But other Republicans said that Obama’s speech illustrates the challenge their party faces in chipping away at the president’s Latino support. Here’s Florida GOP operative Ana Navarro, who was in the room for Obama’s address:
Obama giving my Democrat colleagues a lot more to work with, than Romney gave me yesterday at #NALEO. It ain’t going to be easy, folks— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) June 22, 2012
Obama did address the economy for the bulk for the first portion of his speech. He said his administration’s policies would benefit the middle class, by spending on education and healthcare, and raising taxes on upper-income earners to reduce the federal budget deficit. He criticized Romney’s economic policies, which would cut taxes and regulation, as antithetical to creating middle-class jobs.
“I think they’re wrong,” Obama said of Republicans. “We don’t need more top down economics. What we need is a better plan” to rebuild America.”
The president drew applause when he trumpeted the passage of his $1 trillion healthcare overhaul, which is popular among Latinos despite having only middling support among the general population.
“After a century of trying, we finally passed reform that will make healthcare affordable and available for every American,” he said. “That was the right thing to do. That was the right thing to do. That was the right thing to do.”
Obama, as he does often in his standard stump speech, framed the November election as a choice between two radically different visions for the country’s future.
“The question is, what vision are we going to stand up for? Who are we going to fight for?” he said. “That’s what this election is about: who are we fighting for?”
(Photo: Flickr, porchlife)