“My biggest failure is that we haven’t gotten comprehensive immigration reform done,” he said. “We’re continuing to work on that, but it’s not for lack of trying or desire.”
The admission followed one of the many tough questions levied at Obama during Thursday night’s Univision’s presidential candidate forum on the campus of the University of Miami.
Obama enjoys a decided advantage in Latino support over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but was hardly granted a free pass by two hosts of the Spanish-language channel debate.
Co-host Jorge Ramos pressed him about his failure to deliver on his 2008 promise to come up with a comprehensive immigration plan his first year in the White House.
Obama defended his decision, saying that more pressing matters arose such as preventing a total economic collapse that could have sent the nation spiraling into a depression.
“I think everybody here remembers where we were four years ago,” the president said. “We lost 800,000 jobs the month that I took office. Small businesses and big businesses couldn’t get financing. People had seen their 401(k)s evaporate. People were losing homes left and right.
“And so we had to take a whole series of emergency actions to make sure that we put people back to work — cutting taxes for middle-class families and small businesses, so that they could stay open or pay the bills; making sure that states got assistance, so they didn’t have to lay off teachers and firefighters and police officers; saving an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse. And so — so that took up a huge amount of time in the first year.”
He also cited bitterly partisan resistance in Congress as another factor in the inability to get a deal done.
The town hall-style meeting gave Obama another chance this week to score points at the expense of Mitt Romney’s expense in the wake of the Republican presidential nominee’s dismissive comments about nearly half of the electorate. Romney appeared on Univision the day before.
The event also allowed Obama to talk up his policy of deferring deportations of young people who were brought to the U.S. as small children and are in the country illegally. That action has helped the president solidify his support with many Latino voters.
Obama promised to make another run at reform if re-elected.
The president also took the chance to again chide Romney for his secretly-recorded comments in which he is heard disparaging Obama supporters as the 47 percent who don’t pay taxes, believe they are victims and somehow feel entitled to government handouts.
Romney added that it wasn’t his “job to worry about those people.”
“You know, when you — when you express an attitude that half the country consider itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is maybe you haven’t gotten around a lot, because I travel around the country all the time, and — and the American people are the hardest-working people there are,” he said. “And their problem is not – their problem is not that they’re not working hard enough or they don’t want to work or they’re being taxed too little or they just want to loaf around and – and gather government checks.”
Obama also offered a variation of a line he used earlier in the week on the Late Show with David Letterman.
“I’ve been president now for almost four years,” he said. “But the day I was elected, that night in Grant Park, where I spoke to the country, I said 47 percent of the people didn’t vote for me, but I’ve heard your voices, and I’m going to work just as hard for you as I did for those who did vote for me. That’s how you have to operate as a president.”