President Barack Obama said his inability to achieve comprehensive immigration reform during his first term was a disappointment for which he was ultimately responsible, but cautioned Latino voters that Mitt Romney would no better meet their political demands.
At a forum Thursday hosted by the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, Obama said that more pressing issues -- like the perilous state of the economy in early 2009 -- and Republican intransigence were to blame for his inability to accomplish comprehensive immigration reform. Obama had vowed to pursue immigration reform in his first year; the president's failure to do so has to an extent endangered his support from within the Latino community.
"There's the thinking that the president is somebody who is all-powerful and can get everything done. In our system of government, I am the head of the executive branch. I'm not the head of the legislature. I'm not the head of the judiciary," Obama said. "We have to have cooperation from all these sources in order to get something done. And so I am happy to take responsibility for the fact that we didn't get it done, but I did not make a promise that I would get everything done 100 percent when I was elected as president."
The Obama administration did in June authorize administrative action that opted against pursuing the deportment of people who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children. The rule accomplishes much of the same outcomes as the DREAM Act, which Obama had supported and Congress failed to pass over conservative objections.
Obama sought to dispel the idea that his June action was meant to excite Latino voters.
"I think if you take a look at the polls, I was winning the Latino vote before we took that action, partly because the other side had completely abandoned their commitment to things like comprehensive immigration reform," the president said.
In reflecting on the difficulty he had in pursuing immigration reform, Obama also commented that he learned "that you can't change Washington from the inside -- you can only change it from the outside."
That comment quickly was made into fodder by Republicans, and Romney, stumping shortly after Obama's event this afternoon in Sarasota, pounced on that admission.
Moderator Jorge Ramos bluntly told the president that failing to pass immigration reform was a broken promise. Republican presidential nominee has seized upon this to make inroads with Latinos, among whom he badly trails versus Obama.
Like Obama in 2008, candidate Romney has promised to pass comprehensive immigration reform in his first year if elected. But while Obama had specified his reforms -- Obama had expressed support for the DREAM Act and a broader immigration bill that have immigrants in the U.S. illegally a pathway to citizenship -- Romney has not said what form his "comprehensive" effort would take, beyond stressing it would supersede the president's own action on immigration.
For both candidates, electoral considerations are firmly in mind in their politicking. Romney could fare more poorly with Latinos than any other Republican presidential candidate in recent memory. Obama led Romney 63 to 28 percent in the August NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll of registered Hispanic voters. That's a level of support well below his campaign's stated goal of 38 percent of the vote.
Obama, however, can't easily rest on that advantage. Enthusiasm in voting among Latinos is well below its 2008 levels, meaning the president still faces major work in motivating this crucial bloc to go to the polls. In states like Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and beyond, the Latino vote could prove pivotal.