From: Nakamura, David [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 5:13 PM
To: Velz, Peter; Barnes, Desiree N.; Allen, Jessica
Subject: Travel pool 5/Potus comments in town hall **embargoed for 7 p.m.**
EMBARGOED UNTIL 7 P.M.
Obama sat with host Jose Diaz-Balart on a pair of chairs on a stage with a huge television screen behind them. An audience of 268 people watched from rows of chairs. A mounted camera on a crane swung back-and-forth over the crowd to get shots of the interview. A number of high-profile immigration activists were in the audience. The town hall event began around 4 p.m. and lasted almost an hour.
KEY NEWSY PORTION happened early on: On the immigration court fight and how it affects DHS funding dispute, Obama said: “Unfortunately a group of Republican governors sued. They found a District Court judge who enjoined… but that’s just the first part of the process. This is just one federal judge. We have appealed it very aggressively. We’re going to be as aggressive as we can. In the meantime, what we said to Republicans is, ‘Instead of trying to hold hostage funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is so important for our national security, fund that and let’s get on with passing comprehensive immigration reform.’”
Obama continued: “In the short term if Mr. McConnell, the leader of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, want to have vote over whether what I’m doing is legal or not they can have that vote. I will veto that vote because I’m absolutely confident it’s the right thing we do.” (The crowd applauded loudly at that remark.)
Diaz-Balart asked about continued deportations even with DHS’s new deportation prioritization, and Obama said; “Every time you have a big bureaucracy and you change policy there is going to be one or two or three instances where people apparently haven’t gotten the message. But if you talk to the head of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, is absolutely committed to this new prioritization. More important, I, the president of the United States, am committed. ... We’re going to be focusing on criminals; we’re going to be focusing on potential felons.”
Question 1 from a young veteran, wounded in Afghanistan, who was worried mother will be deported.
Potus: “First of all let me just say thank you. You’re a great example of why this issue is so important. This country is strong because of generation after generation who embraced the ideals of America and fought for those ideas.”
“I’m confident that your mother qualified under the executive action I have put forward. … If you qualified for the executive action I put forward we’re still going to make sure your mom is not prioritized for enforcement. She should feel confident about that. I want her to feel confident about that short-term. Long-term we need to get a path to citizenship.”
Question 2—how do people guarantee they are not deported by ICE as court fight plays out?
Obama – “Until we pass a law through Congress, the executive actions we’ve taken are not going to be permanent; they are temporary. There are going to be some jurisdictions and there may be individual ICE official or Border Control agent not paying attention to our new directives. But they’re going to be answerable to the head of Homeland Security because he’s been very clear about what our priorities will be.”
“Not only are we going to have to win this legal fight.. but ultimately we’re still going to pass a law through Congress. The bottom line is I’m using all the legal power invested in me in order to solve this problem.”
“If somebody’s working for ICE … and they don’t follow the policy, there’s going to be consequences to it.”
Question from Diaz-Balart about the politics of immigration –
Obama; “We’ve got to pass a bill. The pressure’s got to continue to stay on Congress. The pressure’s got to continue to stay on the Republican Party that is blocking comprehensive immigration reform… For the next set presidential candidates -- because I’m term-limited, Michelle’s happy about that -- when they start asking for votes, the first question should be, ‘Are you really going to deport 11 million people? If not, what’s your plan?’ ... We’re going to have to keep on the political process on a separate track.”
Of Texas judge’s immigration ruling Obama said, “Of course we weren’t surprised.”
He compared his immigration actions to George H.W. Bush’s immigration executive actions, which Obama said “were not challenged by Democrats” for political reasons. Obama said that as the executive action program is on hold due to the court fight, immigrants should be gathering their paperwork for their deportation relief applications so that they are ready to go after the legal fight is resolved.
Question 3 from an international student born in Haiti, survivor earthquake, came to Untied States on student visa in 2011 and now senior at FIU, gradating in double major finance and international biz – where do international students fall in terms of gaining legal status to stay in the country?
Obama said that changes to processes for legal immigration would have to be dealt with in comprehensive immigration.
(Why he’s confident he’s on legal ground with immigration actions) “If we were just rewriting the immigration laws, then the other side would have a case. We can’t violate statutes… what we can do is make choices to implement those laws.”
Diaz-Balart asked why Obama didn’t fight harder for immigration in first two years with Democratic Congress?
Obama says first term was dominated by financial crisis, including soaring Latino unemployment rate. “It wasn’t like I was sitting back not doing anything. We were moving aggressively on a whole host of issues. We wanted immigration done; we pushed for immigration to be done, but ultimately we didn’t have the votes to get immigration done. … I don’t regret having done the ACA.”
“If the question is would I have loved to have gotten everything done in the first two years, absolutely, because then in the next six years I could have relaxed.”
Social media question from person frustrated with Washington’s “political ping-pong” on immigration.
Obama: “That’s just not true, the notion and rep political ping pong. Democrats have consistently stood on the side of immigration rform… You do a disservice when you suggest, ‘Ah, nobody was focused on this,’ because they you don’t know who’s fighting for you and who’s fighting against you.”
“Let’s be clear the number one reason we don’t have immigration reform right now: The Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to call a bill.”
Question from immigration activist whose mother is prioritized for deportation…what can Obama do for her mother?
Obama asked the audience to be patient: “Every major social movement. Every bit of progress in this country… has required us to fight and to push and you make progress and then you don’t get everything right away, and then you push some more. And that’s how the country continually gets better.”
“Two-thirds of the people who had the right to vote … stayed home. I’m willing to bet that there are young people who have family members who are at risk in the broken immigration system who still didn’t vote. So my question to everybody, not just the immigrant community, but the country as a whole, ‘Why are you staying home. Why are you not participating?’ There are war-torn countries, people full of poverty, who still vote at 60 or 70 percent. If we here in America voted at 60 to 70 percent it would transform our politics. We would have already passed comprehensive immigration reform.”
Diaz-Balart said people feel cynical because they think Washington treats politics as a game. “Jose, this is not a game. They shouldn’t feel that way. All kinds of changes happen when people vote.”
(On comprehensive immigration reform) Obama: “I haven’t given up passing it when I’m president. … Don’t suddenly give up and say, ‘Oh we have to wait the next two years.’ … I’m not just going to stand still over the next two years. … Over the long term, this is going to get solve because at some point there’s going to be a President Rodriguez or a President Shin because we’re a nation of immigrants. So what I would say to the next president is think ahead…think long-term.”
Obama told the young people to get forward-looking to. Obama said he is now old and, referring to Diaz-Balart, Potus said: “He looks a little better because I don’t dye my hair.” The crowd laughed.
The event ended a short-time later. Obama shook hands with folks in the audience and then paused for pictures with Diaz-Balart.
At 5 p.m. the motorcade was en route back to airport.
Washington Post Staff Writer