In his first major speech on immigration reform as president, Barack Obama said today what he had to say. In keeping with his cool persona, he brought some welcome reason and rationality amid the overheated rhetoric and overreaction to Arizona's new law.
Almost everyone agrees the immigration system is broken. But in noting the political gridlock on the issue, Obama also acknowledged that there is no bipartisan consensus on the solution.
The president blamed "political posturing and special interest wrangling" and faulted Republicans he said had succumbed to the "pressures of partisanship and election-year politics."
"I'm ready to move forward, the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move forward. But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem," Obama (shown in the Associated Press photo above) said at American University in Washington, D.C.
"Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes," he added. "That is the political and mathematical reality."
That moment Obama referred to was in 2007, when Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona proposed a sweeping immigration reform bill. President George W. Bush was on board.
But opponents, including especially vociferous foes on the right wing of the GOP, stopped that momentum cold. By calling such proposals "amnesty," they made it political suicide for a Republican with national ambitions to sign on to such a measure.
Three years later, the situation is, if anything, worse. And frustrations have led to measures like the Arizona law, set to take effect later this month, which calls on law enforcement to check the immigration status of residents if they have a reasonable suspicion they might be illegal. Critics call it a recipe for racial profiling, and Sacramento and other California cities have announced boycotts in response.
Obama supports a plan similar to the : Further secure the borders, penalize businesses that hire illegal immigrants and offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living here -- if they pay fines and back taxes and learn English.
The president has been criticized by reform advocates for not more aggressively pushing their cause. His administration made the political calculation that it wanted to first pass an economic stimulus, health care reform and a financial regulatory overhaul. The first two are law, and the third will almost certainly win final passage when the Senate returns from its July Fourth recess.
So now it's time for immigration reform. But that one may turn out to be the toughest to pass of all.