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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Obama Said About Immigration in His Off-the-Record Interview

Curious about what President Obama might say when he believes he is off the record and can therefore afford to be “very blunt?”

In the case of the interview he gave this week to The Des Moines Register, the president used his perceived anonymity to explain why he thinks the political calculus will make it possible for him to overhaul the nation's immigration laws next year.

“The second thing I'm confident we'll get done next year is immigration reform,” Mr. Obama said in an interview he gave as he sought the newspaper's endorsement. “And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon.”

“George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America,” he continued. “And so I am fairly confident that they're going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it's the right thing to do, and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.”

Of course, there is a deja-vu quality to Mr. Obama's goal of overhauling the nation's immigration laws in the first year of his second term: he wanted to do so in the first year of his first term, too. In an interview with Jorge Ramos of Univision in 2008, he said: “I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I'm promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.”

Mitt Romney has pointed to that promise repeatedly to criticize the president. When Mr. Ramos asked Mr. Obama about that statement at a town-hall-style meeting in Miami this year, Mr. Obama said he had not anticipated that Republicans who previously supported reform “suddenly would walk away.”

Mr. Obama did try in December 2010 to pass the Dream Act, a bill that would give legal status to at least 1.2 million young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. After an intense campaign by the White House, the bill passed the House of Representatives.

In the Senate, it failed - by 5 votes - to gain the 60 votes needed to go to the floor. With no prospect of passing legislation in Congress, Mr. Obama used executive authority in June to offer reprieves from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants.

Generally, Mr. Obama sounded almost as cautious in remarks he thought were off-the-record as he does in on-the-record interviews. There was nothing like Mr. Romney's remark at what he believed was an off-the-record fund-raiser earlier this year that 47 percent of Americans see themselves as victims, or like Mr. Obama's remarks at what h e thought was a closed fund-raiser that small-town Pennsylvania voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them.”

The White House agreed to make the interview public after the paper's editor wrote a blog post lamenting that “The Des Moines Register's publisher and I spoke with President Barack Obama this morning - but we can't tell you what he said.”

The published remarks shed light on what it's like when the president of the United States asks a newspaper for its endorsement.

“Thank you, guys,” the president is quoted as saying in the transcript. “I appreciate you taking the time. I want your endorsement.”

After his interviewers thanked him, Mr. Obama said: “You'll feel better when you give it. All right? Bye-bye.”

Follow Michael Cooper on Twitter at @coopnytimes.