A top aide to President Barack Obama is keeping hopes for passing immigration reform this year alive, even as all signs point to gridlock.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary defeat last week was widely seen as the final nail in the coffin for reform legislation this year, as the largely-pro-reform lawmaker went down and was forced to resign his leadership post. While polls suggest his defeat was not driven by immigration, it did spook House Republicans, who would be forced to take stands that would be controversial in their home districts if the bill came up for a vote.
Yet the White House doesn’t see it that way—at least not yet.
“We have an opportunity with the new team in place in the House to act,” Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told reporters Friday at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, referring to the House leadership shakeup on Thursday.
The White House position allows officials to push off calls from Democrats and immigration activists to take unilateral executive action to curtail deportations. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is currently reviewing proposals for executive action, but his report to the President was delayed to give Congress more time this summer.
“If he were to take action right now [Congress] would use that as an excuse for not acting,” Jarrett said. “There’s really nothing standing in the way,” she added.
But Jarrett said Obama’s position may change after the summer, potentially giving Democrats a boost with Latino voters just months before the midterm elections. A surge in unaccompanied minors crossing the border in recent weeks has made reform that much harder for Republicans to swallow. “I don’t want to get ahead of the President, but what he has said is he believes that this summer is a pivotal opportunity,” she said, adding that Obama will review his options after the summer.
Jarrett spoke about her extensive outreach to the business community trying to galvanize support for reform.
“Yes, I confess, I did have a very enjoyable dinner with Rupert Murdoch,” Jarrett said, in response to a report that the pair recently dined in Washington. She said she was “very heartened” by his support of reform, which he reiterated in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.