President Obama's trip to Las Vegas on Friday is just the first stop in what the White House is billing as a major national campaign to force the Republican Congress to take action on immigration. "The president is going to undertake a very aggressive sales job on the actions that he announced last night," senior White House aide Dan Pfeiffer told reporters Friday morning.
Speaking at a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor, Pfeiffer dismissed the barrage of Republican attacks on the president's address to the nation Thursday night in which he announced executive actions to shield an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation. "Immigration has been a divisive political issue in the country for a very long time," he said. "We're in a particularly partisan and polarized atmosphere in Washington right now. Everything is essentially a live-fire exercise."
To counter what he called GOP "blowback," Pfeiffer cast the trip to Nevada as part of a planned campaign both to persuade the public of the rightness of the president's action and persuade immigrants to participate in the program. In addition to speaking in Las Vegas, he said the president is taping an interview with George Stephanopoulos to be aired this Sunday on ABC's This Week. And he will go to Chicago on Tuesday for another speech and an event with immigration activists. All this is designed, Pfeiffer said, "to push Congress."
He added, "What we want to do is first make the case to the country about what we did and why we did it." Part of that, he said, is to show that Obama's action is "consistent with past practice of presidents of both parties.' For the affected immigrants, he said, this will take "a governmental sales job" to show them how to apply and how the process will work.
But in the face of a fierce Republican counterattack, there will be much more to the campaign. "We'll travel all over the country to do this. Sometimes it will be swing states; sometimes it will be blue states; sometimes it will be red states." He added, "But we will be making the case about what we did and also the need for Congress to finish the job." He said Vice President Joe Biden and members of the Cabinet also will be involved, showing that this is "an incredibly important priority" for the White House.
He also shot back at Boehner's office and specifically at spokesman Michael Steel. In a statement to reporters, Steel said that a senior administration official told Republicans "that the president will veto any legislation that does not do exactly the same thing as the executive action. So the president is not just saying Congress must 'pass a bill'—he's saying that the lame-duck or newly elected Republican Congress must pass a bill doing exactly what President Obama wants."
But Pfeiffer said Steel "is confused on several points. What we have said is that if the Republicans decide they want to shut down the government by sending a bill that will reinstate the threat of deportation on millions of folks, the president will not sign that bill. What the president said was if you pass comprehensive immigration reform that will fix the problem, he will sign that bill, and when that happens it will supersede anything the president did."
Pfeiffer said the president "has shown tremendous patience with Speaker Boehner on immigration reform." He said Boehner "promised several times he would bring the bill up, he would try to pass legislation to address our broken immigration system. In the entire two years since the 2012 election, they did not take one single step to address immigration reform."
He added, "Even the smallest steps caused a blowup in the Republican Caucus. So the idea that now that we have a more conservative Congress that this would be right around the corner seems a bit far-fetched to me."
He also mocked Republican threats to block any other presidential initiatives because of his executive actions here. "That's an illogical approach," said Pfeiffer. "It is sort of the third-grade equivalent of taking your ball and going home."