President Obama told House Democrats Friday that comprehensive immigration reform remains a top priority for this year in spite of Republican lawmakers who are “scared” of the political consequences.
“They’re worried and they’re scared about the political blowback,” Mr. Obama said of the GOP. “We can all appreciate the maneuverings that take place, particularly in an election year.”
At the Democrats’ annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., Mr. Obama said he doesn’t want to wait until later in his presidency to get the legislation approved.
“Punting and putting things off for another year, another two years, another three years, it hurts people,” Mr. Obama said. “It hurts our economy, it hurts families. We have to remind ourselves that there are people behind the statistics.”
The president also thanked Democratic lawmakers for “hanging tough” with him on the unpopular Affordable Care Act and for helping to push through an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit.
“The fact that we were able to pass a clean debt limit is just one example of why, when you guys are unified, you guys stick together, this country is better off,” Mr. Obama said. “And I could not be more appreciative and thankful for what you’re doing.”
On Obamacare, the president said he was encouraged that the administration “slightly exceeded” its target for enrollments in January with a total of more than 3.5 million signed up. He didn’t mention that about 20 percent of those enrollees haven’t yet paid premiums.
“Thank you for all of you hanging in there tough on an issue that I think ten years from now, five years from now we’re going to look back and say this was a monumental achievement that could not have happened were it not for this caucus,” the president told lawmakers.
Earlier, Vice President Joseph R. Biden told House Democrats that their political prospects in the fall will look brighter than they do right now.
“Between now and November is three political lifetimes,” Mr. Biden said. “I can’t imagine our prospects being viewed by the press and everyone else as being a whole hell of a lot brighter by the time we turn to September than now.”
Mr. Biden said “even with all the difficulties you’re facing now with the ACA [Affordable Care Act], 55 percent of the American people don’t want to see it repealed.” He said the public sides with Democrats on issues that affect the middle class.
“They are with us,” Mr. Biden said. “Let’s go out and make every single effort not just to defend, but to aggressively push our agenda. I’m optimistic about America’s prospects, and I’m optimistic about our prospects. So keep your eye on the ball.”
The vice president also seemed to acknowledge that some Democratic incumbents don’t want him or President Obama campaigning for them this year. He recalled the comment made to him by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman James Eastland, a conservative Democrat from Mississippi, when he offered to help Mr. Biden run for re-election in Delaware in the 1970s.
“He said I’ll come to Delaware and campaign for you or against you, whichever will help the most,” Mr. Biden said.
The vice president told the assembled Democrats, “The president has committed, and you know me too tell, I’m fully committed, to put in every effort we can to be of help to any of you.”
Then Mr. Biden laughed as he thanked Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, “for being so helpful and directing me where he wants me to go.” Some Democrats have expressed the wish openly that they don’t want Mr. Obama to campaign for them.
“There isn’t a Republican Party,” Mr. Biden said. “I wish there was a Republican Party. I wish there was one person you could sit across the table from and make a deal. Look at the response of the State of the Union — what were there, three or four?”