Mon Aug 10, 3:04 pm ET
GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Under fire from immigration reform supporters who say he’s not moving fast enough, President Barack Obama
said Monday he expects to have a draft immigration bill in Congress by
year’s end — but that lawmakers wouldn’t begin to seriously debate the
issue until next year.
He acknowledged that
the fight for comprehensive reform would be difficult, saying, “Am I
going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No. . . . There
are going to be demagogues out there who try to suggest that any form
of pathway for legalization for those who are already in the United
States is unacceptable.”
Obama also predicted that Congress would pass his health reform
bill later this year when more “sensible and reasoned arguments will
emerge” — a clear reference to the increasingly heated attacks being
leveled against his overhaul plan by opponents.
brushed back a suggestion from a New York Times reporter that the
“blows” he’s suffering in the health-care debate would weaken him too
much to take on another massive legislative fight on immigration reform heading into the 2010 midterm elections.
“I anticipate we'll do just fine” in the midterms, Obama said. “And I think when all is said on health care reform, the American people are going to be glad that we acted to change an unsustainable system so that more people have coverage.”
immigration, he added, “Those are fights that I'd have to have if my
poll numbers are at 70 or if my poll numbers are at 40. That's just the
nature of the U.S. immigration debate. But ultimately I think the
American people want fairness.”
Immigration reform supporters have grown increasingly vocal in criticizing what some see as foot-dragging by Obama on the contentious issue — which President George W. Bush
tried in his second term, only to see it fail and cause deep divisions
within his own party. Obama’s comments Monday amounted to a firmer
timetable than he has set down in the past and came at the end of a
summit with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts here.
spoke in similar terms about immigration and health reform, calling
both a national imperative required to fix an unsustainable system. “We
have a broken immigration system. Nobody denies it,” Obama said.
health care, Obama denied that he’s pushing a Canadian-style
nationalized medicine system for the United States — even though he
said some opponents have tried to demonize the Canadian system as one
that limits care and has long waiting lists.
don't find Canadians particularly scary, but I guess some of the
opponents of reform think that they make a good boogeyman,” he said.
Obama also offered a strong defense of U.S. efforts to help restore Honduran President Manuel Zelaya
after he was ousted in a coup six weeks ago. "The same critics who say
that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the
same people who say that we're always intervening and the Yankees need
to get out of Latin America,” he said. “You can't have it both ways.”
The expectations were low for Obama’s first summit with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the three leaders met them.
expected, they found common ground on combating a new surge in swine
flu this fall, and they did, agreeing in a joint statement to build up
public health capabilities and share information about the disease
among the countries.
But they still did not reach consensus on lingering trade issues or an approach to rising drug cartel
violence along the U.S.-Mexican border. Obama said the three leaders
coordinated action on economic recovery. "We reaffirmed the need to
reject protectionism," Obama said.
and Mexican leaders came to Guadalajara with different grievances for
the United States. But Calderon and Harper made their cases to Obama in
meetings Sunday night and Monday morning.
During a one-on-one sit-down with Obama, Calderon raised concerns over delayed U.S. aid to Mexico for fighting drugs, as well as the ban on Mexican trucks in the United States.
money — a $100 million installment of a drug-fighting plan called the
Merida Initiative — is being held up in Congress under a provision that
requires Mexico to meet human rights standards in its crackdown on drug cartels.
Obama defended Calderon’s handling of the cartels. “I have great confidence in President Calderon's administration applying the law enforcement techniques that are necessary to curb the power of the cartels, but doing so [in a way] that's consistent with human rights,” Obama said.
The trade issues — the ban on Mexican trucks and a provision in Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan that favors American companies —
are a bit more complicated. Obama is trying to strike a diplomatic
balance with his neighbors and one of his key constituencies: labor.
The “Buy American” provision in the stimulus bill has strong backing from the U.S. steel and construction industries, and the Teamsters Union that represents American trucking companies is the lead advocate for the ban on Mexican trucks in the United States.
Harper confronted Obama with concerns from Canadian companies that the
“Buy American” provision precludes them from competing for construction
projects funded with stimulus money.
At the joint news conference, Obama sought to downplay the concerns, noting that the provisions apply only to spending in the stimulus package.
“I think it's also important to keep it in perspective that, in fact,
we have not seen some sweeping step toward protectionism,” Obama said.
Obama also seemed to get no closer to an agreement on the Mexican trucking issue. As it stands, the North American Free Trade Agreement
requires the United States to allow Mexican trucks to cross the border,
but the Teamsters Union has successfully argued to Congress that
Mexican trucks are unsafe.
During the Bush administration,
Congress adopted a pilot program under which some Mexican trucks were
allowed to cross the border. Obama opposed the program as a senator. In
March, Congress put an end to the trucking pilot program, under
pressure from the Teamsters.
Now Mexican trucks must stop at the border, so the goods they’re carrying can be transferred onto U.S. trucks. Mexico
pushed back by tacking additional tariffs onto goods imported by the
United States, and Mexican truckers filed a $6 billion lawsuit against
the U.S. government for violating NAFTA.
But the leaders were careful to say their disagreements have not hampered their ability to forge a collegial relationship.
The “Three Amigos,” as the participants in the North American Leaders’ Summit have been dubbed, tried to focus on the bright side — swine flu, energy and climate change, the economy.
The now-global swine flu epidemic is believed to have started in Mexico
in April just before Obama's last trip to the country, unbeknownst to
the White House.
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