The White House isn't particularly happy about that New York Times report that President Obama wants to move on immigration reform this year.
The official line out of the administration is that there wasn't really anything new in the story. Time's Jay Newton-Small quotes spokesman Nick Shapiro as saying, "This isn't news. The President has consistently said that he wants to start the discussion later this year... But the economy comes first, that's why we're so deeply engaged in that now -- we will start an immigration discussion later in the year.” And at a briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, "Most of what I read today one could've written a year or so ago based on what he said on the campaign trail, that -- I mean, I think he told groups throughout 2007 and 2008 that the process on immigration reform would begin in his first year in office."
Gibbs also seemed to indicate that the administration will be moving a little more slowly than the Times implied. The paper said the White House wanted Congress to be working on legislation as early as this fall, and while the press secretary didn't directly contradict that, he did say, "Obviously, there are a lot of things on [Obama's] plate and a lot of pressing issues relating to the economy. I don't think he expects that it will be done this year."
Clearly -- and predictably, given the current state of affairs -- the administration is prioritizing its economic agenda over what it hopes to see happen on immigration. The White House press shop made that very clear on Thursday. There's good reason for that.
Because proponents of reform can't really count on much in the way of Republican support, especially in the House, they'll need to keep the Democratic side in line. On the House side of things, the Democrats most likely to buck the president on the economy are also the ones who tend to vote with Republicans on immigration. There may have to be some kind of trade-off, or at least a delay before immigration comes on the table, so as not to burden conservative Democrats with too many tough votes. Then again, moving forward now gets the issue off the table with time to spare before the mid-term elections in 2010, potentially shielding vulnerable Democrats from the worst of the blow while maybe still giving the party as a whole the big political benefits that could come from passing reform legislation.