Jarrett: Obama honored Boehner's request on immigration

SHARE Jarrett: Obama honored Boehner's request on immigration

WASHINGTON — In the months leading to President Barack Obama’s decision to bypass Congress and issue immigration executive orders last week, at one point Obama honored a request from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to hold off making a “very public push” on immigration during the primary season, White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett told me.

Some of Boehner’s GOP House members faced primaries with challenges from the right, and the protective speaker did not want to make things more difficult for his flock. In June, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., lost his primary, and Cantor blamed immigration in part for his undoing.

While various staffers on the Obama team and Democrats on Capitol Hill were very skeptical Boehner would ever allow a vote on any significant immigration measure — Obama accommodated him, giving Boehner the benefit of the doubt.

Jarrett told me in an interview on Friday, “Initially (Boehner) encouraged the president to hold off on a very public push until after the primary season of the midterms, and the president did that.

“And after the primary season, the president said, he called again on the House to pass legislation, and the Speaker didn’t call it up, and the president said he wanted it done by the end of the summer, and the Speaker did not call it up, and then the president decided to wait until the end of the year, and after the election the Speaker made it clear he would not be calling it up.”

So Boehner specifically asked the president to not make a public push?

“He said ‘Look, let’s not make this a part of the mid-term primary campaign, let’s just try to, ‘Give me a little time and space to get this done,’ I think was the broader message the Speaker gave to the president. And so the president did hold off,” Jarrett said.

When the last primary was held in the fall, Obama needed to wait some more — now for Democrats. By then, the White House needed to shelter vulnerable Democrats who feared a backlash in the November general elections if Obama made any solo immigration moves.

Jarrett oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, and her team reached out to stakeholders on immigration in the run-up to the executive orders.

From July 15 through Aug. 12, Jarrett’s shop put together 22 listening sessions with various groups from the civil rights, faith, labor, business, high tech, LGBT and other communities.

In the days before the announcement, Jarrett personally made a series of calls to key business, labor, Hispanic and civil rights leaders. Last Thursday, before Obama’s White House immigration speech, she led a call with over 2,000 stakeholders.

Said Jarrett, “to sum it up is, over the course, over the arc of the time the president has been contemplating taking executive action, he and his team here have done extensive outreach. Over 260 organizations have engaged with us to give us their thoughts about what would be, what appropriate steps the president could take.

“And then that engagement information, feedback was given to the Justice Department and given to the Department of Homeland Security to help inform their thinking, and then they came back with the recommendation that the president ultimately accepted,” she said.

Obama Tuesday in Chicago

Obama returns home to Chicago on Tuesday to speak to immigration leaders and stakeholders as part of a push to sell his orders, which shelter millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.

From a Chicago-related source, I was told the Obama event will be at the Copernicus Community Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. That Jefferson Park community has many residents with Polish roots, thousands who are illegally living in the U.S.

Obama’s engagement with Chicago’s Polish community will demonstrate that the matter of illegal immigration should not be cast as singularly a Hispanic concern.

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