President Barack Obama isn't buying the narrative that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's primary shellacking is a death knell for immigration, and plans to personally press Speaker John A. Boehner to act.
"Some of you saw that there was an interesting election yesterday," he told donors at a fundraiser Wednesday evening. "And it's interesting to listen to the pundits and the analysts, and some of the conventional wisdom talks about, 'Oh, the politics of immigration reform seem impossible now.' I fundamentally reject that. And I will tell the speaker of the House that he needs to reject that," Obama said. Obama cited kids he met at a school earlier Wednesday, many of whom he said are not here legally.
"If you met those kids today, you'd know that politics can’t play a part in it," he said. "I mean, if you think that because of politics you want to maintain a status quo that’s broken; because of politics we’re going to forgo the economic growth and the deficit reduction, and the border security, and the fairness and the opportunity that immigration reform represents — you don’t belong in Washington."
Obama then seemed to take Cantor to task for not being a stronger advocate an immigration overhaul. "My argument about yesterday’s election is not that there was too little politics, it’s that there was too little conviction about what's right."
Obama's mention of a plan to talk to Boehner on immigration came after he has gone months without calling the speaker on an unemployment extension. Other Obama aides have dinged Cantor for not being a strong advocate for an immigration bill.
Spokesman Josh Earnest, who Obama has tapped as his next press secretary, said he was "perplexed" by analysis suggesting that immigration was doomed.
"Majority Leader Cantor campaigned very aggressively against bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform. But yet, in the analysis, there are some who suggest that his election was the key to getting immigration reform done. So I’m not quite sure how people have reached that conclusion," Earnest said.
Earnest and other White House aides pointed instead to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's blowout victory in South Carolina.
"I’m no expert in Republican Party politics, but I’d be hard pressed to name a constituency more conservative than those who cast ballots in the South Carolina Republican primary," he said. "Senator Graham didn’t just support comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate, he actually wrote the bill, or at least he helped write the bill. ... And he made no apologies about that."